Every Saturday morning, the sun “shines” on the corner of Fifth and Towne Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. People are greeted with warmth, love, and respect by Shirley Raines and her team of volunteers who offer free haircuts and makeup to the homeless. Raines believes everyone has the right to feel beautiful because this makes people thrive.
Three years ago, Raines opened the non-profit Beauty 2 to the Streetz. On her website, she wrote, “Not all Queens live in castles, some live on the streets.” She has since transformed the lives of many street people in Skid Row, offering them hope, respect, and validation.
Raines chose to focus her efforts on Skid Row, an area that stretches some 50 city blocks. According to LA Chamber, Skid Row, along with a few neighboring communities, has the largest number of homeless people living in a metropolitan area in the US.
Raines started volunteering at a soup kitchen here, as reported on CNN. When she kept receiving compliments about her hair and makeup, she soon realized that being homeless is not just about food, water, and shelter; people appreciate beauty and they want to look nice.
She began by buying mascara, eyelashes, and hair dye to hand out at the soup kitchen, then gathered her five children and headed to Skid Row, offering to do people’s hair and makeup for free. Her initiative was publicized by social media and in 2019, she opened her non-profit, quit her job, and started devoting her life to helping those on the street.
Brokenness is not new to Raines, who after losing her three-year-old son, was feeling bitter and anxious. Her twin sister suggested Raines find purpose for her pain, inspiring the good will she is doing today.
“So many people have benefited from my pain and that makes my pain worthwhile,” Raines told People. “I hate to have a wasted experience, a wasted pain. No one can learn from a closed book and I needed to open my life up. I needed to help others.”
Raines would be there to help four times a week, but when COVID-19 hit, she pulled back her operation. She soon realized the homeless still needed her assistance and so she changed tactics. The hair and makeup aspect of her operation was put on hold and she started to distribute face masks, hand sanitizer, and food.
Every Saturday morning, Raines and a group of 20 volunteers put together bags filled with water, vitamin-C rich fruit, and hygiene products. A local McDonald’s also donates 600 burgers to the cause every Saturday. Some 800 people arrive to receive her assistance.
Calling them her “bonus family,” her generosity comes with love and smiles just like one would treat family. On Mother’s Day, as seen on her Instagram account, Raines handed each woman a rose. With the help of mobile Wings N’ Waffles caterer, dads were given special treatment on Father’s Day.
Raines is very much loved on the streets of Skid Row. Cherish Benham told CNN she feels like a new woman thanks to Raines. Having been homeless for four years, she now holds her head up high, has a job, and a permanent place to live.
Speaking to CNN about Shirley Raines, Cherish said, “No matter what situation you’re in, no matter what you look like, she always treats you with the utmost respect. Especially in Skid Row, you don’t get that much welcoming respect, but with her and her team, they make me feel like a normal human being.”
Just over a month ago, Governor Newsom announced that barbers and hair salons could resume work by offering their services outdoors. For Raines and her team, an outdoor salon is not a new concept; this is her sunny, meaningful way to reach out and connect to everyone on the street equally.
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