“We’re gonna show you what we’ve got for you”.
A woman sits on a street corner of Skid Row, one of the most concentrated areas of homeless people in Los Angeles, California. A white towel is draped around her shoulders as a gloved volunteer braids her hair into several neat cornrows.
“I appreciate it, thank you”, she says, nervously glancing at the phone camera and fidgeting with her hands.
“Is this your temporary housing or your permanent housing?”
“No, this is my permanent housing.”
Shirley Raines, the founder of Beauty 2 The Streetz, is presenting a soon-to-be ex-homeless woman with a buggy of essentials for her new housing. Funded by the TikTok followers of Beauty 2 The Streetz, the camera pans around the buggy filled with kitchen pans, linens, mops, toiletries and towels.
“It’s a big accomplishment-“, the woman begins to cry.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for you!”, Shirley exclaims. “You didn’t give up. You survived the streets of Skid Row!”
Every Saturday, “rain or shine”, Shirley Raines and her volunteer hairstylists, barbers and makeup artists makeover Skid Row’s homeless people. As of 2019, almost 4000 homeless people were living on Skid Row. Shirley’s non-profit Beauty 2 The Streetz (B2TS) aims to change how homeless people are perceived.
“Everyone wants to feel beautiful. Everyone wants to feel special. Every woman wants to look in the mirror and see something different than their circumstances and their hardship,” Shirley believes.
As well as a hot meal and shower, B2TS provide beauty treatments, but most importantly a friendship and connection.
“We are building friendships based on equality and compassion and it is this, more than simply the hair and makeup, that brings beauty to the streets.”“Our social media family helped to pay for it!” Shirley tells the woman with cornrows. B2TS was initially funded by Shirley alone but is now supported by her team, friends, family, and donations from social media. She began working with homeless people for another organisation and was surprised at how interested the women were in her hair and makeup, so decided to pursue this line of help.
The B2TS TikTok account is followed by more than 1.5 million people, with videos averaging tens of thousands of views. By sharing stories and connections, they hope to reduce the dehumanisation of homeless people.
“I take care of a woman that has a PhD. I think that we have to break the stereotypes of what homelessness is and not all the people that are homeless are without jobs; they are just without a home”.
B2TS had to shift their focus during COVID-19 from beauty treatments to food, hygiene and toiletries. As the homeless people on Skid Row are living close to one another, they are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. B2TS also ensures that COVID-19 safety kits, including masks, hand sanitiser and vitamins for the immune system are given to the homeless.
“Put your mask on, honey”, Shirley gently tells a woman in a clip with 23.5 million views. Her car is filled with boxes of food and supplies, which she’s giving to the queue of homeless people waiting with plastic bags. The woman looks frail and holds a syringe as she receives a mask.
“I need you to put that away.” She warns. “You can put your mask on, I’m still going to feed you though!”
The woman is visibly upset, but Shirley comforts her.
“You’re just having a hard time, it’s okay”.
Women receiving help from B2TS are often apologetic for their addictions or poor hygiene, but they’re always met with sympathy and encouragement. Beauty 2 The Streetz restores some of the dignity stolen from homeless people because of their harmful representations.
Beauty 2 The Streetz is integral to the lives of hundreds on Skid Row, particularly as COVID-19 exacerbates the homeless epidemic. Their TikTok can be found here and their website, with more details about their important work, can be found here.