Stuart Middleton has been saving up for months to get a haircut, but he says it's a tough task when you live on the street. So the free trim he got was a huge relief.

"I hadn't been able to afford to get a haircut, but then I met Angela in Freyberg Square and she gave me this flyer," the 51-year-old said, pulling a piece of folded up paper from his pocket.

Another happy customer. Free haircuts day at Lifewise/ Merge Cafe x @servilleshair

A photo posted by Angela Bevan (@newfacenoagent) on

The flyer was for free haircuts for the homeless day at Merge Cafe on Auckland's Karangahape Rd, organised by Angela Bevan, with the help of Lifewise and Servilles hairdressers.

Mr Middleton had been living on the streets for two years, and said he had really needed the cut.

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"It feels good, I feel like a million bucks now."

Another client, 21-year-old Taylor, wore a blue beanie to hide her hair. She'd got a bad knot in it a while back, that had needed to be cut out, so she didn't like people to see it.

She also hadn't washed it in a long time because she was scared of some of the other women using the showers at the hostel she sometimes stayed in.

"They pick on me because I'm small. They think it's funny to see my cry," she said.

Over a sink in the Merge Cafe bathrooms, she was unable to wash her own hair - due to an arm injury from being beaten up the night before.

Taylor and her partner said they thought free haircuts were a great idea - and should continue on a regular basis.

Though some salons will cut their hair free, they're not so keen on homeless people, she said.

"When they find out that we're homeless they sometimes send us away."

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After a wash, cut and a blow dry Taylor put her hat in her pocket.

Organiser Angela Bevan said she was overwhelmed by the number of people who had shown up to get a trim after she handed out flyers at a World Homeless Day event in Freyberg Square last week.

With the help of hairdressers from Servilles (many of whom were there on their day off), the haircuts took place at Merge cafe, which is run by not for profit agency Lifewise.

Ms Bevan was inspired by similar events overseas - including New York and Moscow - and she hoped yesterday's event would get people talking about social issues like homelessness.

"Doing something new like this makes sense to me. It provides a tangible way for a section of society to give back, it connects previously disconnected groups and it provides a special, personal experience for people who don't normally have such opportunities."

She said the team at Servilles had "floored" her with their enthusiasm.

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Lifewise's Rebekah Sherriff said haircuts were a way to give people living on the streets a self-esteem boost and some dignity.

"Many homeless people talk about how much they hate feeling dirty and not looking their best. Anyone's who just been to the salon knows what an ego boost it can be to get a makeover."

She said it would also be helpful for clients looking for work.

Homelessness in New Zealand

• A 2013 University of Otago study using 2001 and 2006 census data estimated 34,000 people, were unable to access housing in 2006.
• The study's author said people were crowding in with family or friends, staying in boarding houses, camping grounds, emergency accommodation, in cars, or on the street.
• A City Mission head count of people sleeping rough in October last year found 147 people sleeping rough within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower
• In 2013 the Christchurch City Mission's 30-bed night shelter for men accommodated 738 men. The seven-bed women's night shelter accommodated 182 women.
• In August 2012, Hamilton City Council estimated 30 people were living rough and estimated another 400 did not live in a proper home - eg. they were staying with friends or lived in a garage.
• A 2014 Parliamentary research paper said affordable accommodation was a key measure to address homelessness.
• It said factors often linked to homelessness include lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment, mental health issues, emotional trauma and addictions.
• As of June this year, 3352 people were waiting for a Housing New Zealand property. 1,355 of these were Maori.

http://www.lifewise.org.nz/