'Beauty will save the world': Tent City Barbers gives hope to unhoused

Ryan Macasero, The Mercury News on

Published in Lifestyles

Six tents sit along the side of Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City, California, tucked between rock quarries and a refinery.

There are no houses in the area. Just a railroad track, some warehouses and the water.

Drivers who pass by would miss it if they blink. Or perhaps the sight of encampments has become so common in the Bay Area today that seeing one is no longer unusual.

But for Joseph Kautz, a professional beautician and substitute teacher from Redwood City, he goes to Bay Area encampments to give haircuts for free to people down on their luck, who struggle with poverty, addiction, and chronic homelessness, precisely to help them be seen.

“Beauty will save the world,” said Kautz, who is fluent in Russian, citing novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

“Beauty is very powerful. We’re here to do one thing. I’m here to give a haircut,” he says while clipping away at a client’s locks. “When you look better, there is real power in that. Sometimes you just need the wind to change just a little bit.”


The idea to give free haircuts to the homeless began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic when Kautz was living in Seattle after finishing beauty school in San Mateo. He came across a homeless encampment near a supermarket where unhoused people asked him if he could give them haircuts. And that’s how Tent City Barbers was born in 2019.

Kautz, who used to head the digital language lab at Stanford University, eventually returned to the Bay Area, where he started providing haircuts for unhoused people across the Bay Area.

San Mateo County has garnered criticism from some – and praise from others – for adopting a harsher approach to homeless encampments compared to other counties in the Bay Area. Those caught living in unincorporated areas in San Mateo County can face misdemeanor charges if they refuse to go to shelters after two warnings.

But for some who have experienced living in shelters, getting a bed is the easier part. It’s staying there that’s difficult.


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