Schools are closed, NBA games are finished and Disneyland has shut down, but one thing that’s not canceled in the age of coronavirus is compassion.
Just look at Shirley Raines, a 52-year-old woman from Compton who is delivering virus-fighting essentials like face masks, hand sanitizer, vitamins and more to homeless people living on skid row, a community that experts say is especially vulnerable to the pandemic.
“They need to see a friendly face,” she said. “They need to know they’re not forgotten.”
Raines, who lives in Long Beach and is a mom of six, runs a nonprofit organization called Beauty2TheStreetz, which normally provides services like hair color, makeup and mobile showers to skid row’s homeless up to four times a week. They also hand out food, drinks, blankets and any other necessities they can get their hands on.
Raines has done this for the last three years, but in March everything changed. People across California had been ordered to stay home to stop the spread of coronavirus, and Raines was forced to make a tough decision: Practice safe social distancing or continue serving the homeless — who she describes as her family — when they need it most?
“People are at home complaining about social distancing,” she said, “but the homeless don’t have that luxury.”
So, she decided to do both — adjusting her usual routine to cut out physical contact (no hugs or haircuts for now) and still get her community the amenities they need to make it through this crisis.
“For three years, I’ve been telling them, ‘Don’t worry about anything, I got you, you’re my family, I’ll be here for you’ ” she said. “To desert them at a time like this? I wouldn’t expect them to even want to see me after this whole thing passes if we weren’t there for them in the tough times.”
For the last few Saturdays — like an unstoppable superhero with neon hair, colorful eyeshadow and big hoop earrings — she has strapped on a bedazzled mask made by one of her Instagram followers, put on gloves and driven to skid row with a handful of volunteers in tow.
In late March, they passed out hundreds of Ziploc baggies containing bottles of hand sanitizer donated by the toothpaste company Bite, vitamin C packets, food and drinks to a long line of homeless people through cracks in their car windows. Raines also handed out masks, gloves and cleaning products to her regulars with weaker immune systems.
Since then, companies and individual supporters have donated bottles of hand sanitizer, face masks food and water — plus tents and sleeping bags for rainy season, purchased off Raines’ Amazon Wish List — which she and her crew have distributed weekly without fail, while taking precautions to protect themselves and the people they’re serving.
With each interaction, Raines reminds folks not to touch their faces, keep their hands clean and practice social distancing when possible — information many homeless people didn’t have early access to for lack of internet and TV, she said.
Raines is currently collecting donations for anything else that will keep the homeless healthy during these times. If you have a lead, reach her at beauty2thestreetz.org.
“When this passes — and it will — [the homeless] will know that we meant everything we’ve said for the last three years,” Raines said.