Ali Bouazar, or ‘Floki” as he prefers to be called, is a barber who works full-time at a busy shop in Darch in Perth, Western Australia.
But Friday afternoons once a month or so, he takes time off and heads to the city to give free haircuts to people who have no home.
And there are many. In December 2020 there were an estimated 9,000 people experiencing homelessness in WA. It’s likely the real number is much higher.
His nickname “Floki” is taken from a character from the TV series Vikings. He’s a shipbuilder in the series – a joyful character dedicated to his work. Floki says he doesn’t cut hair for attention but for the happiness it gives his customers and the joy that brings him.
It’s all about building connections, he says.
“It’s not just about the haircut, to be honest. I really want to have a connection between people in the community. The haircut helps make the connection even stronger. I feel we have things to talk about because I might look a bit different too, and English is not my first language, so it’s really good to have something to talk about, and when you build the trust, you can go deep and listen to their story.”
“I love to listen to what they want to say; what they want to talk about.
“I have regulars – they keep telling me, ‘We may not show you but we appreciate what you do from the bottom of our hearts.’”
I join Floki in Perth one Friday afternoon. It has been raining and initially few people are about. Floki assures me that once he does one haircut, word will get around and people will come from everywhere. He is right – a queue forms outside the train station. Undercuts are the ’do of the day. He started cutting at 1pm and is still going when I leave at 5pm.
“Last time I was here, one man’s face was full of blood and so the hair at the front was sticking to it and it was really hard for me to pull it. It was very sad. I remember wondering why no one’s looking after them,” he says.
The man was drunk, Floki says, but a friend was by his side. “She told me, ‘Don’t worry. I will hold his hand and he will let you give him a haircut.’
“She was looking after him which was great. They are alone but they have the back of each other.”
Floki came to Australia as a refugee in 2011, fleeing Iran. He’s an Arab Iranian from Ahwaz. He says as a human rights activist, he was in danger in his country and had to leave.
“My people back home – they don’t even have water, the most basic human needs and because we are a minority people, they ignore us.
“They are trying to bring other people from different backgrounds to my city to clean ethnically.”
He says as a human rights activist, kindness to fellow humans is in his blood.
“I understand there is no country that is perfect,” he explains.
“I came from [a] country that doesn’t really care about human rights – I came here. This is too perfect – Australia, here, for me.
“These people [on the streets], they have been ignored for a very long time. I wasn’t born here so I can’t do much because people say to me ‘Hey, if you want to complain just go back to where you came from.’
“I’ve never really had any discrimination here. I very grateful and very happy, but I want to do what I can; what’s in my hands to do.”