ENCINITAS — It’s being called “Operation Paradigm” and its being led by volunteer hairdressers.
Letty Portilla, owner and master stylist of Salon Paradigm on S. El Camino Real came up with the idea to bring hairdressers together to do something to give back to the community, she said.
On Sunday, Portilla and 10 other stylist volunteers gave members of the homeless community in Encinitas the full salon experience from a shampoo to a consultation and ultimately a haircut.
The face is the first thing people see, Portilla explained.
“We saw sadness at first,” Portilla said. “And once they looked at themselves in the mirror it was like, ‘Wow,’ and for me it drew a lot of emotion,” she said.
The idea came from an event that Portilla participated in last month in Oceanside where she and other stylists cut hair for the homeless. Portilla, who grew up in Encinitas, wanted to do something similar in her community.
She approached Kaye Kelley, senior manager of development at the Community Resource Center.
As Kelley explains it, it started with Portilla coming to her office, saying that she wanted to do this.
“And I said, ‘Are you sure?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’” said Kelley.
Sunday’s event was the first of the ongoing operation, which will occur the second Sunday of each month, with the idea of expanding services beyond helping the homeless to providing styling services to seniors in need.
Kelley, who joined the resource center six months ago, said she sees a lot of younger and elderly people living on the streets of Encinitas.
“The homeless here in this community…my experiences here, clearly indicate our homeless populations are not the typical stereotype,” Kelley said. “They appear to be much younger and much older than populations that you’d find in other cities.”
Mark Murdock, 37, who described himself as a “traveler,” said he’s been living on the streets of Encinitas for about the last two-and-a-half years.
He was one of the 14 to get the full salon treatment on Sunday.
Murdock had shown up at the resource center for the breadline, and finding the opportunity to get a haircut was a very unexpected surprise, he said. “It almost made me cry,” he said.
He said it had been maybe four years since he last had his hair cut by a professional stylist, adding how earlier this summer he bought a razor, which he uses to cut his own hair.
As for the experience, “it was awesome,” he said. “A little refreshing.”
Jessica Ramsey, a master stylist at Salon Paradigm cut Murdock’s hair.
Ramsey said she could see the transformation in Murdock after cutting his hair, seeing his eyes light up and then watching him as he walked down the street checking himself out in the reflection of every window he passed by.
“Everyday in the salon we make people feel better about themselves and it’s something that we really are fortunate to do,” she said. “It was a heart fulfilling experience.”
Murdock said it was ultimately his spirituality that brought him out to the West Coast.
“I’ve been on the road for a while. I started off in Texas. I rode a bicycle all the way down to the ocean. And then I just slowly went from Texas all the way to California between bike riding, hiking, hitchhiking, buses and made it all the way to California,” Murdock said.
“I came through Encinitas the first time and it just kind of sucked me in,” he said.
He manages to get by from recycling.
“I recycle for a living,” Murdock said. “Every now and then people will help me out with change and stuff like that. But I don’t mind putting forth the work. I don’t need much,” he said.
“I can get a Ramen for 27 cents. That’s like what, six cans? No big deal,” said Murdock.
He also picks up emergency food rations when the resource center provides them.
“You know that a smile can really help you out sometimes,” Murdock said. “So I just carry that attitude. I guess I’m almost a hippie. But the people in this community have been great to me.”
Salon Paradigm was opened in 2013, and created as a vehicle to give back, Portilla explained.
Portilla said she doesn’t know what will come from Operation Paradigm in the future.
“I just know that we’re all responsible to make a difference,” Portilla said.
Stylists interested in volunteering to cut hair, or those wanting to donate items as socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste for the homeless may call Kelley at (619) 933-0339.