About 30 years ago, Shirley Raines felt lost and looking for meaning after the tragic loss of her toddler son. A friend invited her to feed the homeless, and as female clients complimented her hair and makeup, a light bulb went off.
She offered to bring beauty products whenever she came out, and after weeks of supplying beauty goods for the cisgender and transgender women on the streets, Raines realized this was her purpose.
She’s now 52 years old, and three years ago she founded the nonprofit organization Beauty2theStreetz, comprising a team of roughly 20 volunteers who visit the backstreets of Los Angeles ― and the Skid Row neighborhood, which has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation ― to provide food, hot water, hygiene products, beauty services and community for those in need.
“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.”
Raines recognizes that the lack of a home doesn’t mean the lack of humanity, and provides not just basic necessities but the things that make us feel inherently human, like a hot shower and the hope-inducing feeling of looking in the mirror and loving what you see.
As a self-professed “hood stylist,” Raines has impressive styling skills without any formal cosmetology training, but she’s made it a point to add licensed cosmetologists to her team. Her twin sister is a licensed makeup artist who volunteers her services alongside licensed stylists and barbers who help with the more technical aspects of hair care, such as cuts and color.
Though she considers her self-taught skills good enough to make people look fabulous, Raines believes the homeless men, women and children she serves should also have access to professional services. And she does her best to offer choices to her clients because choice is something that has often been taken away from them.
Pre-coronavirus, Beauty2theStreetz would serve about 30 clients a day, four days a week, providing hot meals as they waited for their requested styling services and sending clients off with their choice of snacks and clothes before leaving. When government officials urged people to stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Raines and her team followed the guidance and ceased operations.
A few of Raines’ clients were able to access social media and let her know they were hurting without her. Shelters had started accepting fewer residents, leaving more people homeless, and without regular access to news outlets, many were uninformed about the latest COVID-19 developments.
To continue serving the population but reduce risk of contagion, Raines and her team made arrangements to set up at a local McDonald’s for roughly six hours once a week on Saturdays, still supplying clients with food and styling services but now adding masks, hand sanitizer and general information about the pandemic to their list of options.
When it came to managing the coronavirus in these communities, Raines said, “We quickly understood that when the world said, ‘Everybody stay in, we got you,’ they didn’t mean the homeless.”
Beauty2theStreetz relies on donations from Patreon subscribers and thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter. The 600-700 masks Raines distributes each Saturday are either sewn or purchased by social media followers who send them directly to Raines. Makeup brands NYX cosmetics and Thrive cosmetics have been donating makeup for a long time, and ManicPanic and L’Oreal have supplied hair color. Raines has also received hand sanitizer donations from brands such as Orly, GreenerWays and toothpaste from Bite.
The organization has even caught the attention of celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Brie Larson, who have not only shared Raines on their own Instagram pages but made donations themselves. Though she’s applied for grants, Raines suspects the reason she’s never received any is that people don’t view her services as a necessity; but these makeovers, as Raines puts it, are “more than something superficial.”
Even if some people can’t understand the power of a shower and makeover, Raines is reassured of her impact when she looks at her clients. “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.”
Just as Raines’ services bring joy to her clients, they have brought joy to her as well. Raines said clients have eased the process of mourning her son because “all the love and care and all the things I have that I can’t give him, I still can give it to other people’s kids, as well as my other five living kids. I kind of adopted a whole community and it’s really helped me to find a purpose, find a reason for my pain.”
As someone whose calling found her by chance, Raines suggests anyone looking to be of service to others should get familiar with their clientele and pay attention to both their needs and their wants.
“Being organic is very important,” she said. “I would advise you to go out there and take care of the needs, and the wants will organically appear. 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.”