Jason Gauthier was a crack cocaine addict living on the streets of Calgary. Facing nine years in prison after a string of armed robberies he did not think he could get himself clean, let alone help someone else conquer their addiction.
“I was really badly broken and homeless,” said Gauthier. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Now 17 years clean, Gauthier offers free haircuts and a listening ear to people who are facing similar struggles that he battled years ago. After teaching himself to cut hair, he started Street Cuts, an initiative that gives free haircuts to the homeless. But Gauthier does not just see himself as a barber, he is also trained as a counsellor to talk people through some of the hardships that he dealt with personally.
“I say ‘listen, I have a map and I have the keys and I know how to get out of here. If you want help I’ve got you because you need to do the work but I’ll walk with you through it,” said Gauthier.
These conversations may not seem like a big deal to most but for some of Gauthier’s clients, it is a matter of life or death. One of his clients, Jim (name changed for anonymity), is a crystal meth addict who is nearly 70-years-old. Gauthier has taken Jim’s sobriety on as a personal mission.
“Jim is one of the reasons why I do this. He knows that I was addicted to crystal meth at one time, and he knows that I don’t do it anymore and he wants to know how I do it,” said Gauthier. “He will die if he keeps it up and I don’t want him to. If I can help save him its worth it.”
After spending five years in prison, Gauthier got out in 2001 and decided it was time to get clean. Now he uses his barber talents to pay that kindness forward.
“Many different people were very kind to me and didn’t have to be. I saw that and I wanted to do that for somebody else,” said Gauthier.
After moving to Moose Jaw in August 2018, Gauthier brought Street Cuts with him and has since been cutting hair at shelters and churches in Moose Jaw and Regina. He is currently working with the Wakamow Detox Centre and Victory Church in Moose Jaw and has held events with Carmichael Outreach in Regina, to try and reach a broader demographic. Gauthier says that having multiple locations helps him reach a wider scope of marginalized populations, and wants Street Cuts to be accessible for anyone that needs it.
Although he is well on his path to his goal of helping, it has not always been easy and sometimes even affected his mental health.
“At first it was very difficult to separate things and to compartmentalize people’s things because it triggered me,” said Gauthier. “But what I’ve realized through some counselling and through help with some mentors, is they taught me to use the time I have with people who are broken, less fortunate, addicted, to not think about myself and heal through this process.”
He forced himself to be clean for at least a year before he began his mission of helping the homeless, since he was still in a vulnerable state.
“You need to have some time and separation from the drug,” said Gauthier. “Because if you don’t, you’re very susceptible to fall back into it.”
Gauthier moves further and further away from his own struggles every day, and he is now in the process of getting certified as a barber and wants to open up his own barbershop in Moose Jaw. As for Street Cuts, he has aspirations to try and grow the initiative nationwide.
“My vision, my dream is to make this a Canada wide thing. My vision is to bring awareness to the homeless population across Canada, so that people with any kind of skill, even a kind gesture, can reach out to people and help them where they’re at,” said Gauthier.