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For over three years, Shirley Raines has been providing beauty care to people living on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles with her organization Beauty 2 The Streetz. The non-profit’s mission is to provide food, showers, haircuts, hair washing and coloring, and wigs.
So when the coronavirus hit the U.S., which now has over 216,000 confirmed cases, Raines, 52, knew that she was not going to turn a blind eye on the people who were going to need the most help.
“I’ve been married to the streets for three years now and you know, we take our vows very seriously,” Raines told The North Star. “Although the pandemic is very scary, for three years I’ve been telling them how much I love them and that we’re there for you, that you have my word. What kind of organization would we be if we just all locked ourselves in our houses and left them alone to fend for themselves during this time?”
In California, there are nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases, according to The New York Times. On Wednesday, April 1, an employee of the Union Rescue Mission, which is an organization that also helps to serve the community living on Skid Row, tested positive for the coronavirus, the Los Angeles Times reported. It is the first confirmed case of coronavirus on Skid Row.
Raines told TNS that before the pandemic, she and her team would visit the neighborhood of Skid Row every Saturday, but took a pause on March 14, as she said many people started panic buying items and practicing social distancing. She also thought she and her team could be a threat to the homeless people living on Skid Row, as they could potentially spread the virus to them.
It wasn’t until she received a direct message from someone she knew who was living on Skid Row, stating that many of them were scared and hungry, that she made the decision to return. A video of Raines handing out hand sanitizer and vitamin c packets while she was sitting in her car went viral on social media. Raines, who was wearing gloves and a mask, her team, and those who were receiving supplies, were criticized by some for not practicing social distancing.
“They sleep and live next to each other, they are not a threat to each other, we are a threat to them,” Raines said.
Public health experts have expressed their concerns that people living in crowded shelters or areas can easily contract infectious diseases and viruses like coronavirus. Some people who are homeless and living in shelters could also have different kinds of disabilities, including respiratory diseases
“This leaves them at risk of getting very severe pneumonia, which is the main cause of death from coronavirus so far. It’s both in terms of contracting the disease and then having things happen if you do get the disease, homelessness is a grim outlook,” Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, previously told TNS.
In March, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garacetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state will supply local governments with $150 million in aid, and will open 6,000 beds at 42 recreation centers in the city of Los Angeles with assistance from the American Red Cross, KABC reported. On April 1, Garacetti said during his daily briefing that testing for the virus has begun on Skid Row and he wants county officials to rent out hotel rooms downtown for those who are homeless so they can quarantine, the LA Times reported.
Raines said despite the severity of the pandemic, now is not the time for people to just be thinking about themselves.
“I know people are going into survival mode, fighting for toilet paper and water, but there are people out there who can literally lose their life,” Raines told TNS.
Before she decided to continue to help the homeless and people living on Skid Row during the pandemic, Raines told TNS that she cried to her sister and children because she was so conflicted. By washing her hands, wearing protective gear like masks and gloves, and practicing social distancing when she isn’t working, Raines said she doesn’t feel like she’s putting her life on the line.
Although some may say she could still be violating the social distancing orders, she says she has been following all the precautions to keep herself safe, telling TNS that she feels safer serving the homeless than going to the grocery store.
“There is not a six feet difference between shoppers when people are buying water and toilet paper at Costco. There’s no room, there’s no space,” said Raines. “I think we’ll get this pandemic under control, but I would feel horrible being held up in my house and not being able to help.”
How to Help
To learn more about Raines’ nonprofit or if you want to donate, click here. Below are a list of other organizations that are helping the homeless during the pandemic:
- Union Rescue Mission
- Los Angeles Mission
- The Midnight Mission
- National Low Income Housing Coalition
- National Alliance to End Homelessness
- National Health Care for the Homeless Council
At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:
Coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2 but also known as COVID-19, is a novel virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to some 180 countries. More than 952,000 people around the world have become infected and more than 48,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you also experience persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately.
In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria Perez is the associate editor for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.