Katie Steller says she doesn’t have the answers to end homelessness, but is doing what she knows.
MINNEAPOLIS – Make an appointment at Steller Hair Company and owner Katie Steller will offer you a seat in one of ten fiery red chairs.
Her eleventh chair – the one she drags around street corners in the back of her Nissan – isn’t.
“If fear is contagious, why can’t kindness be contagious?” asks the hairdresser.
At least once a week, Katie invites the homeless to sit on the street side in her mobile living room chair for a free haircut.
âI could technically cut someone’s hair on a folding chair or on a sidewalk or anywhere, like I didn’t need that chair,â Katie says. “But it’s not about what’s easy, it’s about really showing value to people.”
So, Katie, accompanied by her assistant Emily Lall, pulls the heavy chair in the back of Katie’s SUV until they spot a man holding a sign.
âWe drive giving free hairstyles,â Katie told Justin Landes through the driver’s side window down. “Would you like a free haircut?”
A few minutes later, Justin climbed onto Katie’s chair, temporarily installed in a corner, in view of US Bank Stadium.
Justin tells Katie he’s been homeless for five years.
“I think she’s beautiful,” he said as Katie laughed at the compliment. âI think it’s awesome,â continues Justin.
Katie first used her red chair as a bridge to the homeless in 2013. After a six-year hiatus spent building her salon business, she’s getting back to it.
âIt’s about figuring out what skills do I have, what gift do I have, and how that might benefit someone else,â says Katie.
Emily is one of the salon workers and volunteers who pack the essentials Katie hands out.
On a recent outing, Emily helped Katie lift the chair in and out of the car and roll it over a heck to her next location.
âShe’s a huge role model to me,â says Emily.
The pair greeted Edward Rosser at his corner of I-35W north of downtown.
This would be Katie’s second haircut.
âI like the traveling barber,â he laughs.
âRoving barber,â Katie replies, laughing. “It’s me!”
One lesson that Katie knows well is feeling good about how you look.
âI was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 11,â she says. “When I was 18, they actually took out my entire large intestine.”
As a side effect of her condition, Katie’s hair began to fall out.
âWhen you start to lose it you think to yourself, wait, I didn’t realize how much that was a big part of my identity,â Katie says. âThis is probably my main motivation. I mean, I don’t style my hair because I’m naturally good at it, I’m good at it because I saw it as a way and a way to connect and take care of people.
People like Sylvia Cottonwood.
Katie saw Sylvia and her sign in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
âI want a different style,â Sylvia told Katie. “I want to get rid of the old me.”
Sylvia says Social Security recently helped her afford a small apartment. She tells Katie that she is on the street to collect money so that she can do her laundry.
As she cuts, Katie talks with Sylvia about life and kids – just like Katie would any client in her salon.
“I want her to feel a certain way,” Katie said later. âWhen you feel good about yourself, it can inspire you to do so many things. “
Katie is aware of her limitations.
âI don’t pretend to know all the answers, I’m a hairdresser,â she says. “I’m just using my skills.”
Sylvia says she cuts her hair normally and hasn’t had a salon hairstyle since 2001.
âI like the way she cut it. It’s nice, âsays Sylvia.
Katie asks Sylvia if she can stop and cut her hair again someday.
âWhen you have the capacity to give, it’s a responsibility to give,â says Katie.
NOTE: FOR MORE INFORMATION ON KATIE SELLER’S RED CHAIR PROJECT, CLICK HERE.
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