Recovery Begins With a Big Hairy Mess: Interview With Celeb Hairstylist Jason Schneidman

Schneidman providing a haircut to an unhoused gentleman / Photo provided by Sam Levy

When Jason Schneidman meets disheveled-looking people begging on street corners, he doesn’t hand them a couple bucks. He gives them haircuts. And then some.

As a hairstylist for Hollywood celebrities, Schneidman is in the lookin’-good business big time. He’s well aware that a nice haircut can lead to feeling better about yourself and of course to being presentable, even admired.

But beyond buffing up someone’s looks, giving a haircut offers Schneidman uncommon intimate moments of connection with that individual. As he snips away at the beards and bangs of people living on the street, he also does what he can to chip away at addiction.

A new kind of makeover

Schneidman is all about transformation. His personal hobbies include converting beater houses and cars into rehab projects that net him hundreds of thousands of dollars. His celebrity-serving salon puts him in the company of movers and shakers, and he revels in the fun of it. His warm-hearted demeanor and wildly creative energy make him likeable, easy to connect with.

When he got an idea to do a show about makeovers (“hair ambushes”) of everyday people on the street, he had friends ready to help film them. They did it for fun, but one man they met on the street took Schneidman by surprise, and Schneidman found his new calling.

I don’t try and save people. I try and be there for people that are willing.“One of the guys happened to be in active addiction” says Schneidman. “I thought, I gotta cut his hair.” The next morning, he says, he woke up on fire with an idea. “You know, you have those dreams where it’s such a strong, like, burning bush moment, an epiphany,” he says. “It came to me like a power greater than myself. I can be of service to people on the street and I can do what I love. And that’s where it just, like, took off.

“I called my friend. I was, like, we need to go do more of this. It’s not going to be fun. It’s not going to be pretty. I need you to hold the camera. And that’s where all the interactions started.”

Since that day seven years ago, Schneidman has been a regular on the streets, treating countless numbers of unhoused individuals with free haircuts. When he detects that addiction has a grip on one of them, his friendly banter as he snips at snaggled hair may include a nudge toward getting sober.

“You ready yet?” he may simply ask. Sometimes they are.

“I don’t try and save people. I try and be there for people that are willing,” he says. “And I know what that willingness looks like because I’ve been there myself, and at the end of my using, when I asked for help, I was, like, I’ll do whatever it takes. So, I’m looking for people like that.”

When he finds people who are ready, he is ready for them. He has connections with the kind of long-term, residential treatment programs that he thinks are essential for people trapped in meth and fentanyl habits that have destroyed their ability to manage a decent life for themselves. Many of these people on the street also experience mental illnesses, intensifying their need for more intensive interventions.

He guides his street clientele into structured, sober living settings, where, he says, “People’s heads will start to heal. You work with them. They’re held accountable. They have to do chores. They don’t really go to work for the first six months. Everything’s provided. Then you teach them how to suit up and show up. And then they can start getting back into the workplace, but they have to check back in for the next six months.”

Schneidman is on a mission to expand this type of intensive treatment programming that once saved his own life. He has started a non-profit foundation, California Born, to provide direct aid to some of these intensive programs and also to make scholarships available so his street friends can get in.

A call comes every day 

“I’m currently working with two guys, one that’s in jail,” says Schneidman. His foundation got that man through detox and the first month of sober living but warrants for drug charges landed him in jail. The man was extradited to Florida.

“All I could do was say, ‘Call me every day.’ This guy calls me every day. It’s like his light at the end of the tunnel.

“When I first cut his hair, you know, I thought he was kind of douchey, but now after this everyday talking, like, we’ve become friends, you know. He’s a really great guy. He can do anything. He’s good with his hands. He can build. He’s super smart.

“And so, the other day I was on a Zoom in front of the judge…,” and Schneidman rolls out a long story of the various points along the way where he has made his case with the Florida court so that his friend will only have to serve a limited number of days before Schneidman can get him back into a sober living program.

Three cuts to go

Schneidman’s second story is about another street person who showed up at his salon business near the ocean in Venice Beach, California. He doesn’t usually welcome this kind of interruption there. Here was a guy trying to get sober, but Schneidman had three more cuts on his schedule.

“I looked at him and his face was all bruised, and I could tell he was desperate,” Schneidman says. He told the man, whose name is Chris, to sit down outside the shop. After Schneidman finished with his cuts, he made a few phone calls and then took Chris to detox and a 30-day treatment center.

“He stayed for the 30 days,” says Schneidman, “and now he’s at a year program that offered a year scholarship and that has the same structure that saved my life. So, this guy’s there and he’s thriving. He’s doing good.”

Schneidman is full of stories like this. He posts short films of some of his interactions doing street haircuts on TikTok and Instagram. Having tons of followers helps bring in money for his foundation. He also sells his own product line of hair care products to help fund his ventures.

Schneidman pictured with Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson (right) / Photos courtesy of Schneidman

Wherever he goes

Sometimes his reach extends pretty far.

“I was doing Rob Lowe’s hair for a movie in Georgia on a set,” he says. “And Rob Lowe turned to me and he was like, hey dude, you want to fly private with me tomorrow? I’m going to Connecticut.” Schneidman jumped at the chance to join Lowe, who was headed to High Watch, a treatment center where he would be speaking at an event in front of 1700 people.

Schneidman met a man at the event who got interested in Schneidman’s mission and asked how he could help.

“The next morning, I get this DM from this woman, whose daughter was hooked on heroin,” he says. While the daughter was safe at her mother’s home, the mother said her daughter was “getting itchy. She needs to get some dope,” Schneidman recalls. The mother was desperate for help.

Schneidman reached out to the man he had met the night before, who responded with immediate help. He made arrangements for High Watch to take the woman’s daughter into their program right away. Schneidman helped with the flight to get her there.

A year later, Schneidman got another direct message from the woman.  “She said, ‘My daughter’s doing really good. I owe you. You saved her life.’”  Just recently, Schneidman got yet another DM from the woman, this time saying her daughter is now two years sober and running a treatment center.

Needing structure and accountability

“If I can just help one person, that’s huge for me because then I get to stay sober,” says Schneidman. He remembers the desperation he felt twenty-some years ago. After living a full-blown life of fun and adventure in his younger years, he realized crack cocaine was costing him everything important.

“I knew I was going down this really dark path. It was either going to be death or jail and/or being in an institution, because I was losing my mind. Whenever I put drugs in my system, I’d get paranoid and thought people were coming for me, so I knew I needed out.

“That’s when I started the path of recovery and the path of becoming a celebrity hairstylist. I met a guy in meetings who had done Jennifer Aniston’s hair and he had gone through the same addiction with crack cocaine. I wanted what he had, which was celebrity hairstyling. So, I stayed close to him, and I actually caught all of the runoff of his clients once I was able to get some sobriety.

“He actually took me to rehab. I stayed there for 13 months, and the rehab let me go work at that salon because they knew I was safe there. After morning group and meditation and a meeting and all that stuff, they would let me leave, and I’d have to be back at 5:00 for the dinner meeting and then more meetings in the evening with the fellowship of the guys. Thirty guys, all of us doing the same thing, doing chores, dealing with consequences from our actions.”

Looking for the ones who are ready

Schneidman wants this same path of recovery open for everyone on the streets trapped in addiction. He has visions of his Foundation reaching a lot more people and inspiring the development of more long-term treatment programs with in-depth services that help people reshape their lives. His social media videos are drawing plenty of admirers and supporters. He regularly puts out a call to his stylist friends to join him for monthly events he stages, where tents are set up and people line up off the street for haircuts. He’s always looking for that guy or gal who’s ready to give up the pain of addiction.

When they’re not quite ready, says Schneidman, “Then I’ll circle back. When I start seeing them looking shaggy, their hair grows out, I’m like, hey, dude, you ready for a haircut? And he’s like, hell yeah. And then I start opening up the spiel again, like, dude, you’re not done yet?” Schneidman keeps looking for that opening where his kindness can melt down the resistance.

At night, he goes home to his wife and three kids. He lives in a nice house. He doesn’t take any of this for granted. He remembers that once he too had crazy thoughts and a misguided life when crack ran his brain.

Then he’ll find himself driving along and he’ll see another guy whose hair he cut awhile back. 

“I’ll look at him and I’m, like, oh my God, he’s gnarly. And I say, hey, you want a haircut? And he’s open to it. That’s when the shift happens. A lot of the times they have a different name. And then halfway through the haircut, they tell me their real name. And then we start talking…”

Learn more about Scheidman and his foundation:

Pat Samples, is a Twin Cities freelance writer, writing coach, and somatic coach. Her website is

Last Updated on November 17, 2023

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