Seven years ago, June Ariano-Jakes gave her first free haircut.
It wasn’t a promotion for a business and it wasn’t for a friend. It was a gift to those who couldn’t afford such a luxury.
“How did it start?” she wondered aloud. “Someone had said to me (at Surrey Urban Mission), ‘Do you have a pair of scissors, so I can just give my beard a quick cut?’
“I said, ‘Wait until tomorrow and I’ll get some clippers.’ Before I knew it there was 10 people in line.”
Ariano-Jakes was a regular volunteer at the mission for more than seven years, giving more than 12,000 hours of her time until she left in June.
While she’s no longer in the mission kitchen cooking up a storm (and being a “jack of all trades”), she can still be found continuing her passion – along the Whalley “Strip” (135A Street) or underneath the big tree at the corner of 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard – cutting hair, trimming a beard or even just helping someone fill in paperwork.
“I continue to do much of what I did inside the building, outside now.”
On a particularly hot Thursday afternoon last week, Ariano-Jakes drove down with her tools in tow to set up her makeshift salon chair. Within minutes, she had a lineup of regulars, joking around with her under the big tree.
“How much does it cost?” a newbie asked her as she focused on trimming a man’s mohawk just right.
“Nothing,” Ariano-Jakes replied. “Well, maybe a hug,” she added with a smile.
As she cut each person’s hair – most of whom she knew by name – she asked for an update on life.
“How are the kids?” she asked one man.
She congratulated another on his recent sobriety.
“Looking sharp!” she said to a man as he examined his fresh haircut in a mirror provided by another homeless woman nearby.
They all thanked her after she’d finished their ’do. Every one of them hugged her.
Most said, “I love you.”
Why does she do what she does? What compels her, a grandmother of five, to frequent one of the rougher neighbourhoods in Surrey?
“Love,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“Everybody is very near and dear to my heart. I love the people. I’ve seen many people come and go. Lost a lot of people along the way. It breaks your heart because they become family.”
She noted many people are struggling with simple things, and she does what she can to help. “If someone loses ID, they end up jumping through hoops to get it back. So many places you have to go on a computer, and they may not have access, or it’s frustrating.”
So out she goes, to cut hair and help people move forward.
“Twice a week at least,” she said. “I keep going until my battery dies. Last night I was here, I think, about two and a half hours. Who doesn’t just feel like getting cleaned up?”
A FAMILIAR NIGHTMARE
But it’s not all pretty. After all, this isn’t a salon, it’s the streets.
Ariano-Jakes said she’s felt the spike in overdoses. In the first half of 2016, drugs killed 10 people in Surrey. Province-wide, 371 people died in the same time frame – a 74 per cent jump from the year before.
“I’ve had to use Narcan 39 times,” Ariano-Jakes said.
The drug, generically called naloxone, is used to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose.
“But never anyone in the chair,” she added. “I’m finding it’s harder to get people back. It used to be one shot, sometimes two. It takes more now,” with potent substances like fentanyl and W-18 now on the streets.
Her fear for those on the street is written on her face.
After all, it’s a nightmare she’s all too familiar with – she’s the mother of an addict who has been clean for more than two years.
When her son, Nathan, became hooked on cocaine and heroin, she became relentless in her efforts to understand addiction. She’s read more than 200 books and has even penned her own.
Last April, she released the second edition of her novel, “A Mother’s Story,” with an additional 100 pages that update Nathan’s story – how he pulled himself out of addiction after 25 years.
To say she saw her son go through dark times is an understatement. He was once held captive for 35 days.
Ariano-Jakes said her son unknowingly befriended an undercover officer and took him to a drug deal. He was held responsible once the cop’s true identity came out.
“There’s a chapter in my book called, ‘Can you look at this picture? Have you seen my son?’ because I was on the streets every night for 35 days,” she recalled.
“He had been chained to a wall in a crack house. He was injected with heroin over the course of 35 days. During that time he remembered being given seven cups of water. They didn’t want him to die. They gave him just enough so he could get out and send that message out.”
Normally 225 pounds, her 5’11” son was just 102 pounds after being released.
“You guys go through a lot of horrible things,” she said to a man sitting in her chair.
Ariano-Jakes beamed as she spoke of her son’s success.
“Two and a half years sober,” she stated proudly. “Funny, he’d given me a card a while back and it said, ‘Thanks for not giving up on me, mom. I wouldn’t be here if you had.’”
She hopes to provide the same support to others.
“A lot of them don’t have family anymore,” she lamented, adding she’s often visited people after they’ve been admitted to hospital.
“I have been privileged to be there with two, holding their hand, when they took their last breath.”
‘FOR A MOMENT HE FELT UNDERSTOOD’
Michael Musgrove, executive director of Surrey Urban Mission, said Ariano-Jakes has strong connections with many on the streets.
“I watched June cut a fella’s hair a couple days ago and his struggles seemed to ease as he sat in the chair, chatted with her and laughed,” said Musgrove.
“It seemed therapeutic, as if, for a moment, he felt understood in a world that often ignores him.”
How long will she do this?
“As long as I’m able to.”
So out there she’ll be on Whalley streets, helping those struggling with addiction and homelessness with not just their hair, she hopes, but a whole lot more.
Ariano-Jakes’ book can be found at Black Bond Books stores and Whitby’s Books and Gifts in White Rock, or click here to buy online.