Shirley Raines opened the gate to her apartment complex after one of her weekly Saturday treks to Los Angeles’ Skid Row and was overwhelmed.
In front of her mailbox were boxes and boxes of donated items; and not only by her mailbox, but completely surrounding her front door.
“Oh my God, my poor neighbors,” she said with a chuckle. “Baby, when I pulled up in my car from running around for the homeless, look what I pulled up to. My neighbors are all, ‘Shirley, when you put out a call to action for the homeless, look how you all show out.’ OMG.”
For the last three years, Raines has specialized in traveling to the areas where people don’t have access to the few amenities Skid Row offers. She is an unlikely advocate because she has never been homeless.
But she knows tragedy.
“I have six kids, but one child passed on,” she said. “I was emotionally broke. I was on Prozac but the doctors told me that I have to work on what is really happening with me.”
Three years ago, a friend of Raines’s asked her to help feed the homeless. She agreed and immediately felt relatable to what she was seeing on Skid Row.
“I found a purpose for my pain,” she said.
The people loved her closely-cropped neon orange hair, her makeup and earrings. She quickly realized what was lacking for the many women she met every weekend. She cashed in her cosmetics rewards points, went to discount stores and started taking products to them.
“The women would always compliment me on my hair and makeup,” Raines said. “I've always been told that the homeless need food, clothing, water and resources, but no one ever said they need makeup and hair color. I thought, ‘This is something that I can do!’
“They want to look in the mirror and see something other than their circumstances,” she said. “They don't want to think about the fact that they lost their job and have to sleep in a tent. I think people forget that they're still women at their core.”
From those early Skid Row trips, Beauty2thestreetz was born. Through her service, she has met gay, straight, transgendered and all ethnicities. No one is turned away. She has 37,000 followers on Twitter and more than 146,000 on Instagram. She takes to social media to spread the word about a side of beauty many people don’t see: what self-care looks like when you’re experiencing homelessness.
“Hey yaʼll, hi love muffin, how are you punkin?,” are familiar lines from her Instagram Skid Row videos. Raines said the people have come to know her and she has gained the trust of a handful. But there have been some tough patches as well.
When Raines travels to downtown L.A., she goes with an entourage made up of friends and two bike clubs — Fighters for the World and Chosen Few.
“I wanted to go to Skid Row where no one went, and before the clubs, a woman came up to me and hit me in the face,” Raines said. “One of my team members said I needed security and that she knew a biker. The Fighters for the World said yes and they do so much more than protect me. They are amazing. The Chosen Few club joined in two years ago."
With all the packages to open every week and organizational work that has to be done, somehow, Raines manages to find time to cook for 400-600 people in her tiny kitchen. A few weeks ago, she made banana pudding and peach cobbler.
“Monday through Friday, someone is saying ‘get out of the way, you bum,’” she said. “But not on Saturday. On Saturday, someone is saying, ‘you're important. You're special.’”
Raines says she is extremely grateful for the offerings people leave for her and is amazed that so many people are interested in the community and the homeless. She said she sees and reads so much negativity in the media that to see the many packages left at her door every week sometimes leaves her speechless.
One huge example of the kindness she experienced came when she realized that her small car could no longer hold everything she needed to bring to downtown L.A.; she needed a larger vehicle. So she posted on the GoFundMe page, hoping to raise enough money to purchase a van.
“I’ve been using my car for three years,” she said, “but I have gone from helping 50 women to more than 500. The GoFundMe page came up with $20,000 and then Miley Cyrus’ team, Happy Hippy, gave us $30,000, so we were able to buy the van. Miley’s been following me and I did a podcast with her mom. We were very fortunate to have people with a large platform follow us.”
Eventually, Raines would like to provide a mobile showering service and a food truck to better serve the people on Skid Row. But for right now, she is focusing on helping other people and in turn creating a bit of happiness for herself.
“If I were to define kindness, it would be to just do things for people unconditionally, just because they are human, and without anything back in return,” she said.
“You know, a broken woman is still able to do good things," she continues. "Broken crayons still color, broken glass can still be made into art. I want to change the definition of brokenness. I just have to move a different way. We are just a little more delicate, but it’s okay.”
To learn more about Beauty2thestreetz and to donate, go to beauty2thestreetz.org.
“Remember, not all queens live in castles,” she said. “Some live on the streets.”