Shirley Raines

Shirley Raines’ colorful persona was an instant hit on Skid Row.

When Shirley Raines started volunteering on Skid Row six years ago, she was a broken woman. She suffered the loss of her young son, Demetrius, and addressed her pain by helping others heal. By 2021, she was named CNN’s Hero of the Year.

As the epicenter of drug addiction and overdose in Los Angeles, Skid Row became a battleground where Raines fought for a brighter future. Over time she began noticing that many of the women were interested in her hair, makeup and nail color, so she decided to start her own nonprofit centered around beauty.

“In so many ways, makeup is not superficial,” Raines said. “I always say it’s an adult game of make believe. I still believe that, and there are times when you just need to be pulled out of your circumstances and situation.”

Inspired by her experiences on Skid Row, Raines founded Beauty 2 the Streetz and has been offering makeovers and beauty supplies, as well as necessities like hot showers and meals, to the homeless community for the past six years. 

Raines and her team work on Skid Row every Tuesday and Saturday. On a Tuesday, she orders around 800 burgers from McDonald’s along with snacks and soda options to feed three areas of Skid Row from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

She also has a strong relationship with the ReFresh Spot, a project run by Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles that offers access to bathrooms, showers and laundry equipment for the homeless community.

At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, Raines joins around 25 volunteers to help prepare hot meals that feed over 500 people, costing $4,000. Alongside the food, the team strives to create a family environment with music and conversation while providing a wide range of urgent necessities such as blankets, tents, sleeping bags and hygiene bags as well as their trademark makeover services that allow people to style their hair, makeup, eyelashes and more.

“It’s the options, and options are part of what we do that’s very empowering,” Raines explained. “You don’t have any choice of where you live, and unfortunately the sad scenario is that women don’t have choice over their bodies down there. But there’s a choice of how I want my hair. There’s a choice of my makeup, and even though those choices are small they begin to build power and you begin to feel empowered.”

In December 2021, Raines was named CNN’s Hero of the Year and received $100,000 to put toward her work. It was an honor that she has described as surreal and emotionally draining as she felt the pressure of representing her community on a national platform. 

“I felt a great sense of pressure to bring this home because $100,000 is food,” Raines said. “It wasn’t about being a ‘hero,’ because I don’t believe in that word, but the world does, and in order for me to get what I need for this community I have to get to a certain platform where people can see me on stages like CNN and see my nonprofit. … What we do is very humane. There’s nothing I do that’s of hero status. Feeding people is humane, clothing people is humane, washing the hair of someone dirty is humane. Nothing I’m doing is angelic, but because we live in such a crazy world, they think it is.”

While the last two years of the pandemic have brought hardship to people across all socioeconomic situations, the homeless population of LA has especially suffered, as Raines described that the community of Skid Row was largely left to fend for themselves during the onset of the outbreak.

“I think that people assume that the city did this and the city did that, but those people were left back there to die,” Raines said. 

“People should really have an awareness of what’s happening to the community and not just what the city says is going on but seeing for yourself. Had I believed what the TV was telling me, I would’ve believed they had masks, water and education about what was going on. But because I had a direct relationship with the community, I knew that not to be true.”

Raines described driving throughout Skid Row after hearing that the city had installed hand-washing stations and pointing her camera out of the window from block to block, finding nothing until over a month after the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Since starting Beauty 2 the Streetz, Raines has found that her use of documentation has acted as an important tool for her work to help raise awareness for the homeless on Skid Row, as she is fully funded by her supporters through social media, primarily through the online membership platform Patreon.

Transparency is core to Raines’ mission, and she has encouraged her supporters to follow along on her social media livestreams so that they can witness her work firsthand and see the impact that their donations have on the lives of the homeless. 

“Now that we’re here and people are giving me donations, I want to show you how this person reacted when they got your wig that you donated or how this person reacted when they got your tent,” Raines explained. “We’re showing you their joy, and we’re showing that they want to talk to you. They want to say, ‘Thank you!’”

Through her work, Raines seeks to change the narrative that society has been taught about Skid Row and is hopeful of seeing the continued evolution of a world that cares about the well-being of those impacted by homelessness. 

Today, Raines still works on Skid Row every week as a support system and a friend to the homeless community of Downtown LA. 

 

Beauty 2 the Streetz

beauty2thestreetz.org

patreon.com/beauty2thestreetz