A woman who helps the homeless has been named CNN’s Hero of the Year.
Shirley Raines is the founder of Beauty 2 the Streets, a nonprofit organization that offers free grooming services to the homeless. She works primarily in the “Skid Row” area of Los Angeles, a neighborhood known for its poverty, homelessness, and other hardships.
“It’s not so much just giving them makeup or doing their hair,” Raines told reporters. “It’s also the physical touch. People need physical touch.” She often gives hugs just as much as haircuts.
The goal, she says, is to bring a little empathy and humanity to some of society’s most-judged members.
With the help of a dozen volunteers, Raines offers everything from manicures to barbershop services to those in need. They also distribute food, clothing, hygiene items, tents, sleeping bags, and personal safety devices such as rape whistles. After the COVID-19 pandemic, they added masks and hand sanitizers to the list.
Raines is motivated by the loss of her two-year-son, Demetrius, in a tragic accident. For years after his death, she struggled to find meaning in her life. It was her twin sister who urged her to do something charitable to find renewed purpose. She decided to join a feeding mission offered by a local church, and it brought her face-to-face with the homeless residents of Skid Row.
Immediately, she felt a kinship with the people there.
“The world looked at me and thought probably the same thing they think about the homeless when they pass them by,” she said. “You never know what anyone’s going through, you know?”
Beauty 2 the Streets began as a one-woman effort. Raines went to Skid Row with home cooked meals and beauty products that she’d purchased with her own money. Soon, word spread, and lines began to form. She posted about her project on social media, and other people volunteered to help.
Today, Beauty 2 to the Streets is an officially registered nonprofit organization, and Raines is regarded by many as a hero. She was nominated for CNN’s Hero of the Year award and eventually won the top spot out of 10 finalists. She’ll be given $100,000 for her organization and $10,000 as a personal reward.
She still attributes her motivation to the memory of her son.
“I would be lying if I said I was always completely happy from doing this,” she told reporters. “It didn’t take away the pain of my son dying. But I’ve certainly gotten better. I can say his name now. He is the reason I do what I do.”