As 2021 draws to a close, CareCuts Ministry is wrapping up its fifth year serving the homeless in Knoxville. The mission began in April 2016 as the passion project of Marti Baker, a local hairdresser and owner of Salon LaRue on Kingston Pike.
What started with providing haircuts for those in the unfortunate position of finding themselves without a roof over their heads has grown in scope and purpose in that short time.
“This idea was birthed from the time I went with (the late) Maxine Raines and Lost Sheep Ministry under the bridge to serve the homeless,” Baker said. “To call it an eye-opener would be an understatement.”
It occurred to Baker then that the simple act of giving someone a good haircut was a step in the direction of “restoring dignity” on the way to “restoring lives,” which is a mantra for CareCuts.
While Baker acknowledges that there are individuals among the homeless population who may never leave the streets by their own choosing, she is determined to help any and all of them get back on their feet again and into decent living arrangements and jobs, if they are capable.
“These are people who have had the rug ripped out from under them. They’re just needing a hand-up,” she said. “Many of them are traumatized from life experiences and are in real need of mental health services.”
Along with showers, haircuts, hygiene items, clothes and meals, Baker said CareCuts works as a job resource for many of these individuals, but the first step is often getting some paperwork issues straightened out.
“Many of these folks have lost their identification, and there are resources they can’t pursue without it,” Baker said, noting it is short-sighted to look at a homeless person and tell them to just “get a job.” CareCuts assists with obtaining state IDs or driver’s licenses as well Social Security cards and birth certificates. “It’s very easy for the homeless to lose track of documentation, whether by theft or when encampments are cleared.”
CareCuts recently moved to a building at 519 Williams Street not far from the Mission District and Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries. Baker said it’s important for homeless outreach to locate in the center city because that’s where the resources and bus routes are.
“The vast majority of these people don’t have access to transportation, so they need to be able to walk, bike or catch a bus to the shelter or other agencies,” she said.
Baker said during its tenure, the ministry has already helped over 200 individuals get into permanent housing. In the days leading up to Christmas, she helped a woman who was found sleeping in a culvert – “praise be, though she had lost it, she still had a valid driver’s license” – and also helped out three who’d been camping in Fountain City Park. And she really puts her money where her mouth is. She has opened her own home to those needing a place to go.
“I can tell you I’m pretty sure I knew how to deal a hand of poker before I knew my ABCs,” Baker said. “That could be me, or anyone else, out there, so easily.”
CareCuts has a five-year lease on its current location, but she really hopes to have a permanent home one day.
“My ultimate dream is to have a space that serves as a full-time day-use and resource center,” she said. In the meantime, she said the ministry can always use groups or restaurants to volunteer to serve meals on Sundays. They can always add more cosmetologists to cut hair, trim beards and do manicures as well as sort through the donations they receive on Saturdays.