Due to the economic and health calamity in Cov-19, the homeless population of the nation has been rising. People working with the homeless communities believe that after the last official population count, the number is much higher now. Shirley Raines has been serving the homeless community on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles for the past 3 years.
She said, “I would estimate we’ve got about 8,000 people who are sleeping out on the streets or in some of the shelters.” According to the last official count in 2020, approximately 4500 people have been residing in the 50-block area.
She added, “There are more women on the street than before. The resources had dried up.” She noticed that during the epidemic, women’s shelters have been closed down. The existing data of the count is not reflecting the actual situation and the impact of the epidemic, but according to Raines’s estimation, since the Cov-19 has h-it, Skid Row has surged more than 40%.
For the past 6 years, Shirley Raines and her non-profit organization, “Beauty 2 the Streetz” have been helping people on Skid Row and are proving clothing, food, hair and make-up services to them. Recently, due to the epidemic, they have also provided health and hygiene items to thousands of people. “Beauty 2 the Streetz” was started by Shirley Raines, she and her team provide showers, hygiene products and other necessary products to them to make their life easier to live on the street.
Every weekend, Shirley Raines travel from Long Beach and head to the Skid Tow and provides various kinds of help to them. She is a make-up artist, a provider, a hair technician and a mother figure. She dyes hair, gives makeovers, gives them food and sends her clients with a warm heart saying, “I love you”. She cooks for 400-600 people every week in her one-bedroom apartment while being a mother of six and working a full-time job.
She said from Monday to Friday she hears, “get out of the way, you bum,’ ‘no, you can’t have this, you bum,’ ‘you’re a nuisance” and on Saturdays, she hears, “you’re important. You’re special.” This drives her desire to help more and more people. Initially, she started by feeding the houseless people after going through the pain of losing her child. Later, she found that particularly women are interested in makeup and hair, so she decided to help them.
Shirley Raines said, “Of course, makeup is not going to take them off the streets, but it’s going to make them feel better… it’s a small escape from this dreadful reality they’re living in. They look in the mirror and see something other than homelessness. It just brings them back to who they were.” She added, “The reality of Skid Row is that it took a long time…to earn that trust. I’m asking someone to close their eyes, lay their head back and be vulnerable,” she added. “It took years of coming back every single Saturday.” Her deep connection to serve people on Skid Row is related to the hardships she suffered and being homeless herself.
She said, “I’m a woman who actually lived this life in the streets, hide a child, went through disturbing relationships, was almost homeless myself, picked myself up, been working in the medical field for 26 years. I’m still very much ghetto, but I survived that. I’m able to say, ‘I get it. I understand. But you’ve got to just get through it.” Raines weekly opens a shop at the corner of 5th and Townes and serves people. She calls them “Kings” and “Queens”. Her goal is to make these homeless people feel different, a human. She helps them to feel human, whether it is a hearty meal, facial, haircut, or hug.
She said, “It’s not so much just giving them makeup or doing their hair, it’s also the physical touch. People need physical touch. That’s what was hard when the epidemic h-it. We had to stop doing hair, we had to stop doing barber services. And that might be the nicest touch they’ve had all day.” She said, “The world looked at me and thought probably the same thing they think about the homeless when they pa-ss them by,” she said.
“You never know what anyone’s going through, you know?”. Raines has struggled with the grief of losing her first son for years and the financial security, so she knows how it feels to be labeled. In 1990, the 2-year-old son of Raines, Demetrius L-eave this world, who was living with her grandmother, coincidentally ingested medication and was under medication soon after.
She said, “I blamed myself for not having stability. If only I’d had my own backyard. If only I’d had my stuff together. The woman who had given me so much in life was also the cause of my greatest loss. And how do you rationalize that as a 20-year-old? You don’t. You br-eak inside.” Soon after that, she lost her grandmother and then her husband to can-cer. After suffering from anxiety and anxiety disorders for years, it was her twin sister who stepped into her life and urges her to find a purpose in her life to easing her pain.
In 2017, she joined a church group for the feeding mission to the homeless people.
She said, “I went to Skid Row, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is where all the br-oken people are? Oh, I’ve been looking for y’all all my life,” she said. “I never wanted to leave. It’s a place where people have amazing hearts, but nobody can see it because they can’t see the forest for the trees.” She added, “We just had to use our best judgment and figure out some ways to still keep them fed, while keeping them safe, and while keeping us safe.” During the epidemic, they provided their masks, sanitizers, and PPE. The group worked tirelessly and served the community. Raines is providing food supply twice a week and expanding her partnerships with local groups to help these homeless people.