“You will look like a new man!”
Alexandre Legere speaks nothing but compliments as he gives a homeless man with wild, scraggly hair and a yellow-stained beard a free haircut at a men’s shelter in the Downtown Eastside.
Glenn hasn’t had a haircut in over a year. Legere exchanges the man’s worn leather jacket with a black cape, pulls out his professional tools, and gets to work. He estimates he’s offered more than 2,000 cuts and beard trims to the less fortunate since 2014.
“Some haven’t been touched for years. Some open up and trust. Some have big bodies with so much fragility inside,” said Legere, a professional with over 30 years of experience in the beauty industry.
He’s found offering a haircut and beard trim offers the men a sense of joy, hope, and confidence. “You see a light in their eyes, something glowing. You bring a light to them.”
Legere knows what it’s like to be on the other side of receiving help.
The New Brunswick native was orphaned at a young age and raised by extended family until he left home at age 14. He lived in his own apartment, finished hair school, and began work as a professional hairdresser, working in Montreal for 10 years, Quebec City for four, and even travelling to work in New Orleans and Vancouver. At the height of his career, he’d opened two Vancouver salons.
Despite his self-made success, “it was a very hard time of my life,” said Legere. He became addicted to drugs, was self-absorbed and consumed with making money, and had all but abandoned the Catholic faith and values instilled in him by his grandmother.
“Doing the wrong thing, I ended up losing everything,” said Legere. Within about five years, he’d lost ownership of both salons and his apartment and was living on the streets. “All the light was going away from me. I was walking away from Christ. I was doing evil things and I lost everything.”
Homeless in Vancouver, he stumbled across Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel on Cambie Street, a shelter for poor and transient men that offers up to 90-day stays and referrals to addiction and other services.
Legere moved in. “I was still in sin while I was here. I was still in difficulties, struggling.” At one point, he moved into another apartment, then lost it again, and was back at the men’s hostel. It was only after a “rebirth” experience that he managed to get back on his feet.
“The darkness was taking over,” he said. “Everything was turning dark and I was still living in this body, but I thought it was my time.” Clinging to the faith of his grandmother by a thread, one day he found himself walking to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Vancouver looking for hope.
When he arrived, a funeral for a policeman was underway. Feeling awkward, he made for the exit. “As I turned around, something inside of me said: ‘Don’t turn around from something that is good for you.’”
So, Legere entered, found a priest in the back of the church, and gave a full confession in a stairwell. “In that moment, I got that rebirth in the Holy Spirit,” said Legere.
He returned to the men’s hostel, where he began offering occasional haircuts to fellow homeless guests. “That was quite a blessing. They built me up again,” he said. “God never took away from me the talent that he gave me.”
Legere began offering free haircuts and beard trims regularly, twice a month, in 2014. Then, one year ago, he was officially hired by the hostel for night shifts and administrative work. Between hostel work and haircuts, he also works as a professional hairdresser for former clients, travelling as far as Sechelt to give trims to the more fortunate.
“The most important is to help our brothers and sisters who are in need,” he said. “The most important is to be a light to others. The most important is to talk about Christ, talk about God, talk about his mercy. No matter what you did or what you do, God is there and he is a God of forgiveness. I am the proof.”
Legere said he sees a light in the eyes of the men he serves; their hope and sense of self-worth elevate with clean, fresh looks. Several have gone to have job interviews, been hired, and now have stable incomes and living situations.
He gives 15-20 cuts each night at the hostel. Glenn, his first client this night, sits patiently in his chair as Legere expertly trims his long hair and yellowed beard with professional tools. Other men walk in to add their names to the first-come, first-served sign-up sheet.
“Now, you’re going to be a superstar,” Legere tells Glenn as he sweeps away loose hair and swivels the chair to the mirror for Glenn to get a good look.
“It’s very different,” Glenn says, hesitating. Then, with more confidence: “It’s not bad, not bad at all. That’s pretty good.”
For Legere, those words are worth more than gold. “I have so much reward,” he says, “and it’s not from this world.”