On one homeless veteran's viral "makeover"
Today is Veterans Day, and a video of a homeless veteran undergoing a makeover is making the rounds on the internet. The video shows Jim Wolf, a veteran from Grand Rapids, Michigan, receiving a new haircut and a snazzy outfit. Rob Bliss, the video’s producer, said he was aiming to create a video that could show how people experiencing homelessness—people we often ignore—can look like they are meant to be on a magazine cover, too.
My reaction to the video is mixed. There are definitely some positives. For one thing, the video’s timing has called attention to the fact that many veterans end up experiencing homelessness, as traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities, and stress disorders can all cause instability in a person’s life. And, the video calls us out for frequent stereotyping. We can be quick to assign a face to homelessness, and it’s often one that is unkempt. It can lead to assumptions that people are just lazy, or could change their situation if only they tried a bit harder or cared a bit more.
Still, I had a few issues with the video and some of the producer’s comments. Transforming someone’s life--completing a true transformation from homelessness to housing--is an immensely complex and multifaceted process that can’t simply be fixed with a new set of clothes and a good haircut. The end of the video mentions that Wolf has gained access to housing and is attending AA meetings—those are the kind of steps that need to be taken. Bliss said that he hopes the video gets people to “root for the success” of those experiencing homelessness. Rooting for success is nice, but what we really need are social justice advocates, pushing for things like just wages, affordable housing, mental health services, addiction counseling, prison re-entry programs, and more.
The most important part of the story I thought was the stylist’s reaction to the interaction. The stylist mentioned that she had expected Wolf to be quiet and shy, and was instead struck by all the stories he told, and how he spoke charismatically about professional sports teams, his mother, and a sister who manages a thrift store.
This interaction between a stylist and a homeless veteran—this is what we need to see more of, for there to be understanding and the recognition of humanity and dignity, even if someone doesn’t look like they belong on a magazine cover.