For most of the week, the adjacent streets around Skid Row’s Fred Jordan Mission are lined up with tents and a makeshift community of unhoused residents.
They frequent the Mission and Women’s Shelter looking for resources, anything to help the harsh life out on the streets.
Then on Saturday mornings, something special happens, and it’s a mix between a block party and fashion show.
Welcome to Beauty2TheStreetz, a non-profit dedicated to helping Los Angeles’ unhoused and vulnerable populations by making them look good.
“It boosts up my self-esteem,” says Denice Williams, a regular at this weekly event. “It makes me feel more like a woman. [I feel] like a movie star.”
Shirley Raines, founder of Beauty2TheStreetz, is hard to miss on this street corner. She’s tall, bubbly, and wears nearly hula-hoop-sized gold earrings that frame her face. Her hair is always a shock of neon; highlighter green one weekend, hot pink the next.
She stands out like a beacon of light on Skid Row, and that is what got unhoused residents’ attention.
“I came out here to feed the homeless one day with some people, and the ladies and the queens were like, ‘Oh, we love your hair color, we love your makeup,’” Raines said. “And I'm like, oh, really? Every week I came out, they just kept complimenting me on my hair, my makeup. I'm like, wait a minute, is this something that homeless people would want?”
Raines was inspired to help the unhoused after a family tragedy: Her son passed away in an accident.
“I just was in a very dark and depressed place,” she said. “I didn't find or have a purpose for my life. And so I was tired of crying every day, and waking up and saying, ‘why me?’ And I said, ‘let me try to do something with this pain, find a purpose for my pain.’”
Finding purpose after this loss was difficult for Raines. She tried to get out of the house more and tried to help other nonprofits but nothing felt fulfilling. Then, she took a trip to Skid Row.
“When I came out here, I'm like, ‘oh, my God, this is where all of me are. These are all the broken people.’ I felt at home.”
Her initial operation started small; she and her six kids would cook up meals in their Long Beach apartment and drive up to Skid Row to serve the unhoused residents there.
Her process is organized. Raines has residents line-up and walk through a line that offers food, something to drink, hygiene kits, beauty products and clothes.
Raines would livestream the process to Instagram and eventually went viral, building a large social media following. Her social following turned into a steady stream of volunteers and donations: TV personalities offered their time, food trucks and restaurants provided food, and cosmetics companies gifted products.
Sprinkled throughout Raines’ procession is another surprising sight: a bunch of burly dudes clad in leather. They’re bikers. To some, they may be intimidating at first glance, but these guys aren’t rough-and-tumble types — they’re here to help.
“Shirley made me see homeless people in a different light,” Mecca, one of the leaders of bike club Fighters for the World, said. “I mean, before I would give two s---- about a homeless person. But being down here makes you see definitely because at any given day, that could be you.”
Since going viral, Raines has had to lean on the help of those supporting her, because she was laid off from her medical billing job about half a year ago.
“It was tragic to me. It was like, ‘oh, my God, why wouldn't I be homeless?’ I've never felt so close to homelessness in my life.”
She's unemployed, living unemployment check to unemployment check. And her unemployment insurance will soon run out. Still, she heads to Skid Row every week with her nonprofit, full-time.
“I've decided that I no longer need to make money for doctors and sit behind a desk,” Raines said. “This is what I'm supposed to be. I couldn't save my son and I don't think I'm saving these people, but at least I have an opportunity to try and do something. I felt very helpless when my son passed away. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing the doctors could do. There is something I could do in this particular crisis. So I'll just... let me try.”