Anthony Cymerys, known by many in Hartford, Conn. as “Joe the Barber,” who has been giving free haircuts to the homeless for almost a decade, was kicked out of Bushnell Park on Wednesday for not having a license. 82-year-old Cymerys, known for his generosity, does what he can to help those around him and does not accept any repayment for his haircuts other than hugs. On Wednesday, Cymerys was asked to stop after two police and three civilians approached him and determined he was “not a licensed barber”.
Cymerys stated that helping the homeless is an amazing feeling. “You have no idea. You have no idea when this great, big 6-foot guy practically squeezes me to death. Or kisses me on top of the head. You can’t buy that,” he said. He has done this every Wednesday night for years, until he was abruptly forced to stop. “I said sit down Louie and I started cutting his hair,” Cymerys said. “I got halfway through. And uh oh, all of a sudden here come these two official looking policemen and three civilians.”
Some people were concerned because Cymerys is not a licensed barber. Some believe those who complained licensed barbers in the area, although most of the homeless would not only not be welcome in their barbershops, but also wouldn’t be able to afford their haircuts. Cymerys also hands out food to the homeless, although the health department stated that the food is unregulated. “While we support the idea of anyone willingly and voluntarily giving their time to help needy communities, local residents have expressed some concerns about the safety and sanitation of Mr. Cymerys’ practice and unregulated food distribution,” said Nancy M. Mulroy, Hartford city spokeswoman on Thursday.
Within hours, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra was involved. Mayor Segarra had recognized Cymerys’ charitable acts the previous year and made the decision that Cymerys could continue his acts of private charity based on “numerous years of charitable work to the city.”
“He wishes for him to continue his great and generous work in Bushnell Park,” Segarra’s office said in a statement. “This does not mean, however, that others are allowed to join him – this action is solely reserved for him. City officials plan to assist Cymerys in getting a barber’s state license despite the fact that he never charges for his haircuts. This statement, despite the dispensation given to Cymerys, angered many who view the generous man as a role model. Those people believe they are being told they cannot offer aid to the homeless without government permission.
Cymerys is confused as to why he needs a license now, after a decade of giving away his services, and said he is not putting away his clippers. “If it brings some joy to somebody’s life, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about kindness,” he said. “If we all do a kindness for somebody, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world.”
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