Shirley Raines’ relationship with the homeless community began 30 years ago after the tragic loss of her toddler son. The mother of six channeled her grief into service and joined a friend who invited her to help feed the homeless.
Raines noticed that the people she served took interest in her hair and makeup, so she began to supply beauty and hair care products to cis and transgender homeless women in Los Angeles.
Over time spent with the homeless, Raines, 52, felt she had found her purpose and started her nonprofit, Beauty2theStreetz, 3 years ago. Raines and her team of 25 provide the homeless community residing in Skid Row in LA with hair cuts and color, makeovers, showers, hygiene products, and hot meals and community.
Prior to the pandemic, Beauty2theStreetz was able to serve 30 clients a day, 4 days a week, but when government guidelines urged people to stay home amid COVID-19, Raines and her team put their services on pause.
But then Raines heard from some of her clients who were able to access social media. Shelters had begun taking precautions and accepting fewer residents, leaving more people homeless, without access to news media and information about the pandemic. Her clients missed the community Beauty2theStreetz provided, as well as the opportunity to make choices and take pride in themselves through beauty and personal care.
So Raines adjusted her strategy to continue to help the community while taking precaution to protect her clients and team from COVID-19.
Raines said, “We quickly understood that when the world said, ‘Everybody stay in, we got you,’ they didn’t mean the homeless.”
Raines still visits Skid Row 4 times a week, 3 times on her own, and on Saturdays, with her team.
In response to the pandemic, Beauty2theStreetz now provides essential needs like hand sanitizer and masks. They also hand out sleeping bags, tents, and other items to ease the experience of harsh living conditions.
Rather than bringing food cooked in her own kitchen, amid supply shortages and in order to minimize the risk of infection, Raines and her team feed the community with fast food meals and prepackaged items. They also offer critical information about how the community can protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19.
Beauty2theStreetz relies on donations from Patreon and followers on Instagram and Twitter in order to operate. Brands like NYX and Thrive cosmetics, ManicPanic and L’Oreal have been longtime supporters of the nonprofit.
Social media followers sew and donate masks, hand sanitizer has been supplied by Orly and GreenerWays, and toothpaste was donated by Bite.
Raines and her team are now effectively frontline workers. She has applied for grants in the past, but she suspects they’ve been declined because the services they offer are misunderstood as non-essential.
But Raines asserts that these makeovers are “more than something superficial.”
“Nothing else is gonna work for you unless you love yourself and feel good about yourself; and this is helping them get to that level of feeling confident and clean enough and beautiful enough to go into a place and put in a job application or go into an establishment and put in a housing application.”
She says the impact of a hot shower and a bit of personal care is obvious on her clients’ faces.
Raines recognizes the humanity in this underserved community, and urges those looking to help to pay attention to not only the basic survival requirements of those in need, but to pay attention to their desires and what makes them feel embodied and human.
“If you’re gonna be committed to your community, you have to go out there and build the relationships with them. You have to invest that time with them. They have to learn to trust you and you have to get to know them. That’s the only way it’s gonna succeed.”