On one of Los Angeles’ tent-lined blocks on Skid Row, hair stylist Sascha Breuer ran his hands through the hair of a middle-aged homeless man sitting on a chair in the middle of the sidewalk. After a short discussion, Breuer gave him a cut.
The previous day, Breuer was at his day job, shuttling between Hollywood studio lots with actress and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Ana Gasteyer, who was promoting the film “Wine Country.”
Breuer, 45, is an in-demand hairstylist in Hollywood, with a client list including stars such as Anne Hathaway, Keira Knightley, Naomi Campbell, Zoe Saldana, Edgar Ramirez and Hilary Swank, according to his website.
But the work he is most proud of began just over two years ago, when he pulled out a chair in front a burger chain restaurant in Los Angeles and offered free haircuts to a group of young homeless people.
“There were no concise plans when I first started. It was just trying to use my skills to give back,” said Breuer.
He kept at it, and he recruited other stylists to join him. He established the charitable organization The Kind Cut, which has inspired hairdressers around the world to give more than 3,500 free haircuts to those in need in Los Angeles, and additional cuts as far away as Turkey, Italy and Ukraine.
“A haircut is a second chance,” said David Drummond, 31, who recently got a cut from Breuer, and explained that he came to L.A. to pursue screenwriting but has been living on the street for about a year.
Breuer’s personal journey began far from the glamorous sets where he often works. Born and raised in Mettmann, near Düsseldorf, Germany, he is a third-generation hair dresser, and said he was raised in his parents’ salon, which his grandfather established.
“It was less of a choice and more of something I was born into,” he said.
His parents had a salon beneath their apartment, and Breuer worked there as far back as he can remember, starting as a boy when he would sweep the floors. At 15, he began giving deeply discounted haircuts to people at a center for the disabled. Military service was mandatory in West Germany, but conscientious objectors, like Breuer, could avoid enlisting by doing social work or trade work for nominal pay, and Breuer chose to cut hair in his hometown. Those 18 months, as well as his work at the disabled center, helped lay the groundwork for what would be his most personal work later in life.
When he moved to London, he struggled as a freelancer until he turned 30, when he got a break and started getting gigs with some of the biggest brands in his industry and also began doing fashion runway work.
When success came, it came fast. He quickly expanded his business and earned the respect of his clientele.
“Sascha is an incredible, supremely talented, unique and kind individual, and let me not forget his razor-sharp wit!” said Hillary Swank, a two-time Academy Award winner, in a text message to The Washington Post.
In his 30s Breuer recalled traveling for about 300 days a year. “I was a nomad, I was just working. Creatively and financially it was very rewarding, but I was very lonely,” he said.
After years on the road, he said, he “re-met” his wife — they had been friends for over 15 years — and they got married in 2015. It was the best decision he ever made, he said.
I got married and didn’t feel like a homeless hairdresser anymore. I felt like I had an actual home,” said Breuer.
Being part of a community, he started to notice his surroundings more, and in particular, the number of people who were homeless in Los Angeles. He began to take leftover food from sets and give it to people on the street. Then came the 2016 election, in which Breuer could not vote because he has a Green Card and was not eligible. He felt he wanted more of a voice; he wanted to be more involved.
“I had a couple glasses of wine, and the idea for The Kind Cut was born that night,” said Breuer.
The idea proved harder to implement than he anticipated. First, he reached out to local organizations and shelters in the area to offer his services, but his many emails went unanswered.
In March 2017, during a four-hour gap between jobs, he set up a chair in front of a burger restaurant in Los Angeles and started asking people who looked like they were in need: “Would a free haircut help you?” If they said yes, he obliged.
His longtime friend Grey Zisser, creative director at Blonde + Co, a creative agency, said he was not surprised when Breuer told him about it.
“One day he called me and said, ‘Guess what I did this afternoon!’ And I said, ‘Oh man that’s crazy, but amazing,'” Zisser said.
Now, in addition to showing up on Skid Row with a pair of scissors, Breuer organizes events in which he brings groups of stylists to various places to give haircuts to people in need. He also coordinates with other organizations to pass out care kits filled with personal hygiene items and other necessities.
Back on the Skid Row sidewalk in front of a makeshift community center and next to a van offering free HIV tests and condoms, Breuer bent his body to find the proper angles for the cuts while chatting with his clients and managing the growing line.
“You want gloves?” asked a community center volunteer.
“What for?” responded Breuer in lightly German-accented English.
Breuer said that by giving the free haircuts he’s trying to help give people a shot of self esteem. “A lot of them still work; they work hard, but they don’t have enough money to live in a normal environment,” Breuer said.
As he cut hair, he steered the conversation away from controversial topics. “No politics, no religion, only good vibes in my chair,” he said.
Everything else was fair game for his clients, many of whom freely shared their difficult stories with him.
Garth Powelson, 56, was sitting for his first cut in six months and said he was hoping to look more presentable for an upcoming court date involving child custody. He worked as a carpenter but said he had been homeless for five years.
“You’re not homeless; you’re experiencing homelessness,” said Breuer, who kept a constant conversation with his clients, whether it was quips or words of encouragement.
“I had drug use, but also recovery,” said Powelson as he squinted to avoid getting tufts of hair in his eyes.
Laura Newton, 43, sat down in Breuer’s chair with multicolor dye in her hair, prompting Breuer to call her a unicorn. “Sascha’s helping me better myself,” said Newton.
She said a haircut “boosts up my energy,” and she hopes that will help her land work as a performer.
“If it leads me onstage that’d be good. If it leads me somewhere else, that’d be good too,” she said. “People say I have a good voice.”
Another man on Skid Row, Julio Ramos, 40, hoped his haircut would help balance the upcoming heat as he works a construction job.
“Work is coming up, and I wear a hard hat, so this will help keep me cool,” said Ramos.
After about three hours and half a dozen full hair cuts, plus a few quick trims, Breuer packed up his kit. Assessing The Kind Cut, Breuer said his mission is offering easy acts of kindness where he can.
“I’m trying to show how simple it is to help another person who is going through a rough time and could use a helping hand,” said Breuer.
Powelson, who had just gotten a fresh haircut, said he is grateful Breuer has that worldview.
“We are human beings,” Powelson said. “And Sascha hasn’t given up on us.”