Moving America Forward

When This 82-Year-Old Helps the Homeless, All He Asks for Is a Hug

January 2, 2014
When This 82-Year-Old Helps the Homeless, All He Asks for Is a Hug
Homeless people rest on a public sidewalk February 28, 2013 in downtown skid row area of Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
"Joe the Barber" has been cutting the hair of the homeless for over 25 years.

Every Wednesday afternoon, 82-year-old Anthony “Joe the Barber” Cymerys heads to Bushnell Park in Hartford, Conn., with nothing more than a folding chair and a duffel bag full of his special tools. For the past 25 years, he’s been dolling out free haircuts to the homeless men and women who frequent the park, and all he asks for in return is a hug. Cymerys, a retired real estate investor who learned how to cut hair from his dad when he was growing up, got the idea to provide free haircuts for the homeless when he was volunteering at a shelter in 1988. He met a heroin addict named Arnold who was badly in need of a haircut, so he offered his services. After that, his mobile barbershop was born.

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Last June, city health officials forced Cymerys to leave the park after some residents expressed concerns about the safety and sanitation of his services. But the mayor, Pedro Segarra, quickly gave him a special dispensation, along with a proposition: the city would help him obtain a state barber’s license, if he wanted one. (No word yet on whether he’s taken them up on that). The following Wednesday, “Joe the Barber” returned to his spot in the park, and dutifully trimmed the hair of his clients, to whom he’s become quite close. “They’re my family,” Cymerys told CBS News. “They really are my family.”

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