Well, well, well … we made it to another Wednesday, and I don’t know about you guys, but I’m more than ready to hear about some good people for a change! First, though, I think it is worth noting that the pandemic brought out the goodness in at least some people, and charitable donations were up in 2020 by 5% over and above those of 2019! Last year, an estimated $471.44 billion was donated to charities around the nation, making 2020 the highest year of charitable giving on record! Just goes to show what I’ve been saying for a few years now – there are lots ‘n lots of good people out there.
I am focusing on just one very good person today, for her story is worth telling and hearing. She is Ms. Shirley Raines, who is giving her all to helping the homeless in a 50-block section of Los Angeles, California, referred to as Skid Row. Even before the pandemic hit last year, causing both health and economic crises, the nation’s homeless population was already on the rise. Now, more than a year after the last official population count, many of those working with homeless communities believe numbers are much higher. Says Ms. Raines …
“I would estimate we’ve got about 8,000 people who are sleeping out on the streets or in some of the shelters. There are more women on the street than before. The resources had dried up.”
Ms. Raines has known hardship and her early adult life was not a happy one. In 1990, when she was only 20 years old, her 2-year-old son, Demetrius, was living with Shirley’s grandmother, for she was struggling and finding it difficult to take care of him. Sadly, he found some of the grandmother’s medication, tried it out, and later died in the hospital on September 6th, 1990. Shortly thereafter, Raines lost both her grandmother and Demetrius’ biological father and felt all alone in the world.
“I blamed myself for not having stability. If only I’d had my own backyard. If only I’d had my stuff together. I just fell apart. I lived a very unhappy life. I couldn’t keep anything together. I’m telling you, anything that I could do to get myself out of this planet, this world, I tried it. And I’m still here, you know? And I’m like, ‘What is this about?'”
After struggling with anxiety and panic disorder for decades, it was Raines’ twin sister who stepped in, urging Raines to find a purpose for her pain. That purpose came in 2017 when Raines joined a church group on a feeding mission.
“I went to Skid Row, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is where all the broken people are? Oh, I’ve been looking for y’all all my life. I never wanted to leave. It’s a place where people have amazing hearts, but nobody can see it because they can’t see the forest for the trees.”
At first, Raines, who sports brightly colored hair and makeup, passed out clothing, food, and water. But when several Skid Row residents complimented her appearance, she offered to do their hair and makeup.
“I started with the Trans community. They were telling me that no one would give them women’s clothes because they were men. I’m like, ‘Girl, I’ll bring you some women’s clothes. I’ll bring wigs, I’ll bring you eyelashes.'”
Early on, Raines teamed up with a community group of motorcycle enthusiasts called ‘Fighters for The World MC’ who accompany her on Skid Row to provide safety and structure.
“They’re like big brothers. A lot of the homeless would get lost. They couldn’t find us, but they learned to follow the sounds of the bikes.”
As Raines’ efforts evolved into a full-scale operation, with music playing and lines forming around the block, she began providing more supplies and essentials: rape whistles, tents, sleeping bags, hygiene items — and she teamed up with local health officials to offer more services.
Heidi Behforouz, medical director for Housing for Health, a program of the L.A. County Department of Health Services, has worked with Raines on the streets and says, “she is giving people hope, a break, dignity, some fun … just reminding us that we’re all human.”
Before the pandemic, Raines was making 400 meals a week in her one-bedroom apartment kitchen in Long Beach and driving three times a week to Downtown Los Angeles to feed and bring supplies to people. Then, as Covid-19 affected many organizations’ efforts, services dried up. But Raines pivoted, opting for bagged lunches and a tweaked schedule — and she kept going.
“When I went out there, it was like a scene from The Walking Dead. All the resources had stopped. People stopped coming to feed. People were starving. Some people had socks tied around their face, around their nose.”
Raines struggled to find enough drinking water and food to purchase, so she appealed to her followers over social media who stepped up with donations and supplies. Raines struggled to find enough drinking water and food to purchase, so she appealed to her followers over social media who stepped up with donations and supplies.
In tandem with the health department, which provided masks, sanitizer and PPE, Raines said her group and other L.A. County non-profits and community projects worked tirelessly to serve the unseen community.
“We just had to use our best judgment and figure out some ways to still keep them fed, while keeping them safe, and while keeping us safe.”
Today, as vaccination rates are on the rise and a sense of normality is returning, Raines is offering help by way of food and supplies twice a week and expanding partnerships with local groups to let this often-overlooked population know there is hope. Ms. Raines group now consists of about 20 volunteers and the motorcycle group are still with them, helping to organize supplies and meals.
I took my information from CNN Heroes, for Ms. Raines has been nominated a 2021 Hero, but if you would like to learn more about her and her organization, here is an excellent article in People that I wish I had seen sooner.