Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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At annual event to lift the homeless, a free haircut can make all the difference

Project Homeless Connect

Christopher DeVargas

Donna Jordan, a hairstylist who volunteers at the Project Homeless Connect, gives a haircut to Army veteran Ronald Cochran, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

Project Homeless Connect

Volunteers give haircuts to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless during Project Homeless Connect, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. The project brings several resources and organizations together in one location to help those in need. Launch slideshow »

Donna Jordan has been cutting hair for 30 years, and on Tuesday morning, under a white tent in a grassy field near downtown Las Vegas, she’s cutting Ronald Cochran’s “ornery Scottish waves.” 

Jordan volunteered at the annual Project Homeless Connect event hosted by the Nevada Homeless Alliance in partnership with Southern Nevada Homelessness Continuum of Care and Clark County Department of Social Services. Located at the Champion Center on 3900 E. Bonanza Road, this was the event’s 26th year.

Cochran wants his hair short like he had it in basic training, when his drill sergeant made him carry his ponytail in his back pocket or he’d have to do 100 push-ups. She obliges trimming inches of sunbleached waves off Cochran’s neck. 

“At the end of the day, we all have a story. We all have a connection and we realize just how human we all are through something as simple as a haircut,” she said.

More than 16,600 Southern Nevadans will experience homelessness this year, including 584 veterans like Cochran, according to the 2018 Southern Nevada Homeless Census and Survey. Veterans are at a greater risk of becoming homeless than the general population and are overrepresented among the homeless population, according to the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Alliance. 

Cochran said he was in the U.S. Army for 14 years. Jordan tells him about her father, who recently passed away, and how he served in the Korean War. Cochran’s dog, Cookie, lies at his feet wearing a red service dog vest while Jordan continues to cut his hair. 

There’s a silence before he speaks again, talking about his journey toward homelessness. His fiancee was struck and killed crossing the street on Boulder Highway, causing a spiral effect because they relied on her income. His savings dried up and he was on the streets.

But that’s not what makes him the saddest. He misses the everyday things they shared.

“Coffee every morning, kissing her every night, going to sleep every night with no hostility or anger ... and seeing her every morning — those are my favorite memories. The little things,” Cochran said. 

On any given night there are 6,083 homeless people in Southern Nevada. That includes 1,295 unaccompanied homeless youth, 505 chronically homeless and 106 homeless families with children, according to the Southern Nevada Homeless Census and Survey. 

The event includes more than 150 service providers and 500-plus volunteers who came together to help Southern Nevada’s most vulnerable populations who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless. It was attended by 2,500 at-risk people, said Dan Kulin, a Clark County spokesperson.

Services offered at the event included medical booths, mental health counseling, and substance abuse treatment. Others included everything from free haircuts to pet supplies.

Many of the volunteers come back to help each year. For Jordan, it’s personal. Her brother was homeless in California for years before sobering up. This is just her way of paying it forward. She estimates that each hairdresser does about 40 to 50 haircuts on this day. 

Jordan finished cutting Cochran’s hair and trimming his goatee. They embrace, both with tears welling up in their eyes. Cochran thanks Jordan for her son and father’s service, and she, in turn, thanked him for his service. 

Cochran walked away to smoke a cigarette with Cookie leading the way and apologized to Jordan for the tears. 

“You brought me to tears, too, but that will be why I do what I do. Right there, that connection,” she said.