California.com tackles first feature series on homelessness, One Planet's team volunteers to help at events.

One Planet’s latest venture - California.com - is a socially driven media company highlighting the top destinations, unique experiences, and innovative businesses in California. While the content heavily focuses on lifestyle topics such as food and travel, the content team also covers more serious subjects, and in January, it tackled the issue of homelessness.

The California.com content team—which includes Alejandra Saragoza, Rachael Medina and Brin Hanson—under the direction of General Manager Sara Farooqi, spent several days educating themselves on homelessness to better understand how to cover it with sensitivity and respect. 

In a January series “Helping the Unhoused”, the team delivered three in-depth stories on events focused on helping those without permanent homes and examined how people can help those in need: 

Needa Bee Advocates for Housing and Dignity for All

Needa Bee is a homeless woman but also a longtime advocate for the homeless population in Oakland. Her activist organization, The Village in Oakland, is a group comprised of both homeless and housed persons working together to deliver meals, services and housing options to a community. On January 18, the group cleaned up garbage from illegal dumping happening on the East 12th and 14th Streets’ median in East Oakland. The volunteers planted gardens to prevent further illegal dumping and constructed tiny homes for the homeless. This article takes a deep look at how the homeless help themselves.

The Art of Being a Gentleman at Trinity Center

Barbers from Hi-Definition Barbershop and Mark-Jason Solofa Men’s Grooming teamed up to create a volunteer organization - The Art of Being a Gentleman - with the hopes of becoming a nonprofit. With help from One Planet, the barbers spent the morning of January 22 providing free, high-quality haircuts to the men and women of Trinity Center, a homeless center in Walnut Creek. 

Skid Row Carnival of Love

This event was founded by actor Justin Baldoni, who would spend his birthday (even before his fame) giving away hygiene products and food to residents of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Now organized by Baldoni’s nonprofit, The Wayfarer Foundation, Skid Row Carnival of Love is in its sixth year and operating with several corporate sponsors. California.com was one of this year’s sponsors and sent its entire team down to LA to volunteer. California.com flew celebrity barber Nasir Sobhani, aka “The Streets Barber,” from Australia to provide a truly exceptional barbering experience to the homeless men and women who stood in line for haircuts and shaves. 

UNDERSTANDING HOMELESSNESS

The California.com team’s efforts began in late December 2019. 

At this time, Oakland was making national headlines after a group of homeless mothers took control of a vacant home in West Oakland purchased by a Southern California investment company and refused to leave the property. A hotly contested legal battle began that put a spotlight on Oakland’s housing crisis. 

The first step for the California.com team was outreach to homeless advocates, who have been immersed with homelessness for years and could speak to the issues on a granular level. Managing Editor Alejandra Saragoza discovered Needa Bee from news stories about The Village’s November housing encampment protest in front of Oakland City Hall. 

Needa Bee agreed to a lengthy phone interview where she explained how some people became homeless, how the community helps itself without handouts, what services work and why some efforts fail. 

Photojournalist Brin Hanson travelled to East Oakland, behind a Burger King, where a homeless camp was situated on a median above Interstate 880. Needa Bee and volunteers of The Village were removing large debris, couches, mattresses and garbage from the area. 

“This is illegal dumping, not trash from the underhoused,” said Needa Bee. “Homeless people don’t have couches and mattresses.” 

Brin spent the afternoon photographing the clean-up efforts and the construction of gardens and tiny homes to discourage continued illegal dumping in the area. 

STARTING A NONPROFIT

Two premier barber shops in Walnut Creek—Hi-Definition Barbershop and MJ Solofa Men’s Grooming—had previously teamed up to offer free, high-end barber shop experiences to those who otherwise could not afford them. Their organization, The Art of Being a Gentleman, has ambitions to become a nonprofit. 

One Planet helped coordinate the barbers’ first service donation at Walnut Creek’s Trinity Center on January 22. 

It began with phone calls to Hi-Definition’s owner Max Lober and Trinity Center’s Member Advocate Assistant Sara O’Brien to determine a date and time. 

“This is great,” said Sara. “We have a lot of offers to help the women, but we don’t get many offers to help the men, so this is very much appreciated.” 

The available room had substantial lighting and outlets, but One Planet needed to provide five counter-height chairs and power cords for the barbers. 

The first Trinity Center clients sat down at 8:00am.  

“It’s been three weeks since my last haircut, and it cost me $30 that last time—money I didn’t really have,” said Gregory, 66. 

Gregory said he paid $30, because he felt he was recently treated badly at his storage unit for his appearance. 

Barber Mark-James Solofa spent 45 minutes giving him the haircut he wanted.

“It’s exactly what I wanted, and this is a wonderful cause,” said Gregory. 

The four barbers spent an exceptional amount of time giving each client precise grooming and engaging in conversation. 

“I was worried about my goatee, because I’m missing some teeth and like to cover my mouth,” said James, 63. “This is great, because I can’t do it myself because I don’t have a mirror out there. You lose your vanity after a while.” 

The barbers finished the last haircut before noon. 

“We have been wanting to come into a homeless shelter for a long time, and we’re grateful that the coordination was handled by One Planet,” said Hi-Definition owner Max Lober. “It made everything run really smoothly for us.” 

The barbers have plans to offer more experiences like the one at Trinity Center to juvenile detention centers. 

AN ESTABLISHED LARGE-SCALE EVENT 

Skid Row Carnival of Love began as a grassroots event for homeless outreach, but with the help of corporate funding and a well-organized system for volunteers, it has scaled to help nearly 5,000 homeless men and women living in downtown Los Angeles. Now in its sixth year, Skid Row Carnival of Love accepted sponsorships from Procter & Gamble, California.com, Soylent, Paul Mitchell and several others. 

California.com paid to fly Nasir Sobhani, “The Streets Barber,” from Australia to work at its haircutting station. Nasir is like the Banksy of barbering - he shows up unannounced on streets throughout the world to offer free, high-quality barbering to men living on the streets. 

Formerly incarcerated and a recovering drug addict himself, Nasir provides a safe space and confidential ear to the men who sit in his chair. 

To help Nasir and the other volunteer barbers and hairstylists get through the long line of clients on Skid Row wanting haircuts, One Planet’s Vice President of Business Development, Rudd Lippincott, also jumped in with his barber skills. 

“I’m impressed,” said Nasir of Rudd’s haircutting. “His lines are straight! He’s working really hard.” 

The rest of the California.com team gave out sock donations (individuals from One Planet’s Walnut Creek office donated more than 180 pairs); made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the barbers working nonstop from 10am to 4pm as well as for Skid Row residents who didn’t wish to wait in line for food; and sat to listen to several men and women who wanted someone to hear their stories of loss, homelessness and hope. 

At the end of the day, Nasir and Rudd stayed the longest at the Carnival to make sure the last few men waiting in line got the haircut they wanted. 

California.com has committed to calculating its carbon footprint for this entire event and will plant the appropriate amount of trees to make its efforts carbon neutral.