Hobo Salon’s Lesson in Empathy

OUTsider 2018's interactive installation seeks to bridge divides

Described as a “street-based pop-up,” Hobo Salon provides free haircuts to Austin's queer youth experiencing homelessness. While offering cuts and fades to street kids, the local project, led by Lisa Donato, interviewed numerous clients during their time in the chair.

Entrance to Hobo Salon installation at OUTsider (Photo by Beth Sullivan)

The final project was turned into a film and featured during the Salon's OUTsider installation this past Saturday.

For eight hours, the Vortex’s Pony Shed turned into a makeshift salon where attendees could receive free haircuts while watching filmed interviews with those who had received similar clips on the Drag. Sitting in a salon chair, participants faced a screen playing back-to-back videos of youth discussing their daily struggles as well as their experiences being simultaneously queer and homeless.

Though each subject shared their own unique perspective, common threads between the interviews demonstrated some of the key issues facing our homeless youth. Almost all the subjects discussed difficulties securing housing and finding work – essential tasks made all the more difficult by limited city programs, trouble with accessing the internet, and lack of a permanent address.

Monique's interview in Hobo Salon (Photo by Beth Sullivan)

Cardboard signs reminded OUTsider participants that LGBTQ folks experiencing homelessness are often at a greater risk of violence and abuse – a grim reality that one subject named Monique addressed. Monique, who came to Austin following a Hurricane Harvey evacuation from Victoria, Texas, says her friend Bubba (who is gay) was beat up one night outside of Downtown's Salvation Army shelter when he was seen kissing another man.

With its interactive approach to cultivating empathy, Hobo Salon’s installation calls attention to the stigma and stories of those experiencing homelessness in our community, queer or otherwise. The project serves as a powerful reminder that we can all practice more kindness both on and off the street.

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Hobo Salon, OUTsider Festival, Homeless Youth

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