Once Homeless Himself, Mr. GroomRoom Provides Haircuts to Those in Need in Raleigh

By Brent Woodcox

On this site, we love to highlight local businesses that are making our city a better place and we love to celebrate people in our community who are serving those in need. That's why I was thankful to run across this story of William Winters, a community activist and barber who after experiencing a period of homelessness and drug addiction turned his life around and is using his story to inspire others. Thanks to the News & Observer for sharing this story and for Mr. GroomRoom for spreading opportunity and compassion in our city.

The lights are soft, and the sounds of jazz can be heard inside Mr. GroomRoom Barber Shop.

William Winters, the owner of the shop on Pettigrew Street in Southeast Raleigh, likes it this way. Peaceful.

From the shop’s entrance, Winters can glimpse the site where he used to sleep beneath a tree next to the liquor store on New Bern Avenue. Back then, he was homeless and walked Raleigh’s streets like they were hallways.

Now, a decade after he got off the streets and and two years after he opened Mr. GroomRoom, Winters gives back to the homeless by offering them free haircuts, shaves and hot-towel facials.

“I was in the same position they are in,” said Winters, 53, who grew up in Southeast Raleigh. “I was homeless and used drugs and alcohol. I chose to go to the dark side, to experience it, and I got caught out there.” ...

From jail cells and lonely streets, Winters dreamed of “bringing the services of North Raleigh to our side of town at a reasonable price.” He knew his community, predominantly African-American, needed more of what was happening in wealthier parts of Raleigh.

Winters’ dream – and the reality of what kept him from it – led him to a recovery program with Oxford House, a sober-living company with houses throughout North Carolina. Residents pay to stay there and can be forced to leave if they relapse.

As Winters recovered from his addiction, he attended barber school, where he was dubbed Mr. GroomRoom.

He started offering free haircuts to the homeless outside the Salvation Army in Raleigh, setting up a chair and bringing his clippers.

Two years ago this month, he opened his barber shop. Now two other barbers and a stylist volunteer to help groom homeless men and women from noon to 3 p.m. every other Sunday. Volunteers with the K9 Motorcycle Club use vans to transport people staying in homeless shelters to and from the shop.

The outreach was just in time for Greg Devone, 57, who had started a new job.

“This is a blessing,” he said on a recent Sunday. “It’s truly a blessing to be here.”

Edna Howard, 47, and Inez Reid, 59, said they also appreciated the chance to be pampered. The shop also offers free shampoos, deep conditioning and new styles.

“At the shelter, there are no outlets in the bathroom, so we have to do our hair in the laundry room – and there are no mirrors in there,” Howard said. “When my hair is done, I feel better looking for jobs.”

Reid said she’s been longing for some attention to her shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper dreadlocks. She called Winters’ generosity that of a “living angel.”

“Isn’t God good?” she asked. ...

— Lori D.R. Wiggins - N&O
Brent Woodcox