A man who has been giving free haircuts to the homeless in exchange for hugs for 25 years has been kicked out of a park by Hartford city health officials.
Anthony “Joe the Barber” Cymerys has been a fixture every Wednesday for years at Bushnell Park, where he cuts hair and his friends hand out food to the needy.
However, shortly after the 82-year-old Cymerys set up shop this week, health officials and police confronted him and his friends and told them they had to leave because they did not have permits, he said.
“I thought it was a drug raid, honest to God,” Cymerys said. “It was the peanut gallery on TV where everyone was watching.”
City officials had no immediate comment.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Pedro Segarra said she expected to release a statement about Cymerys by the city’s Health and Human Services Department or police department later on Thursday.
Cymerys, who learned how to cut hair growing up and is not a licensed barber, said he was not completely surprised by officials’ actions because they have asked him before to leave the park and other areas. He hopes to continue cutting hair for free at the Immaculate Conception Shelter.
He said he always takes health precautions including soaking his trimmers in alcohol.
“Twenty-five years I’ve been giving haircuts, and no one died on me,” he said.
His friends questioned the city’s actions, saying officials kicked him out of the park only a year after honoring him for his humanitarian work.
“It’s kind of ironic that a year ago the mayor was giving him a citation for all the good work he’s been doing with the homeless there and they kick us out,” said George Pfuetzner, who gives out food at the park while Cymerys cuts hair.
Pfuetzner said he was trying to get in touch with a city health official on Thursday to discuss his and Cymerys’ options. They want to keep operating in the park because it is a central location and people know they are there.
Cymerys began giving free haircuts to the homeless in the city around 1988, when he was volunteering at a shelter.
He said he met a heroin addict named Arnold who needed a haircut, so he offered his services.
“I said, ‘Geez, Arnold. Not only are you a bum, you look like a bum. How about I bring in my clippers?’” Cymerys said.