“It’s just a really amazing opportunity for homeless people to be seen, helped…for people to understand what they’re going through,” she said.
“I think it’s important to change the narrative of what people think of Skid Row, to see the commonalities that we have,” Raines said.
Rain or shine, she sets up shop on the corner of 5th and Towne every week to serve those she calls the “Kings” and “Queens.” Her goal is to help them see themselves as worthy, whether that means a haircut, a facial, a hearty meal or a hug.
Raines says she knows what it’s like to be labeled. For decades, she struggled with financial insecurity, grief and loss after the death of her first son.
“The world looked at me and probably thought the same as homeless people when they see them,” she said. “You never know what someone is going through, you know?”
After volunteering with a religious group in Skid Row, Raines said it was the homeless community that helped her find purpose.
“I went to Skid Row, I was like, ‘Oh, is that where all the broken people are? Oh, I’ve been looking for you all my whole life,'” she said. never wanted to leave.”
Early on, Raines began live-streaming her Beauty 2 the Streetz events on Instagram and Tik Tok and quickly garnered a devoted following on social media. She has more than 4 million followers on social media – people who not only want to help her, but also follow her work and her life. When needed, Raines often calls on them for donated tents and hygiene items.
And in 2021, when Raines found out she was on CNN’s Top 10 Hero of the Year, she also encouraged her subscribers to vote for her for CNN Hero of the Year.
“Even if you want to say it doesn’t really matter, let’s be real. I wanted to bring this prize money, this victory, this recognition to the community,” she said. “It feels really good to know that social media has really rocked with us.”
Raines received the award from hosts Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa and thanked the Skid Row community and its children, including his late son, who inspired his work.
“I wanted people to understand that you’re not looking at a woman who buried a child, started a nonprofit, took over her life, and now she’s a CNN Hero winner,” said Raines. “You’re looking at a woman who’s done all of these things and remains very broken, but is still a CNN Hero winner.”
Raines’ organization received $100,000 to expand its work, and she says the money will be used for feeding programs. As homeless populations grow, she says they need support more than ever.
“The work continues,” Raines said. “But it’s the hardest thing to get support and help. There’s a huge need for tents (and) blankets here.”
For those whom Raines serves, the honor and the award were indeed a victory.
“It was like a team feeling,” said Skid Row resident Michael Jackson, who was featured in Raines’ profile post. “Everyone approached me… I was happy and proud to know her. She helped more people than you can imagine.”
Despite the honor, Raines says she wants to stay grounded and doesn’t think of herself as a hero.
“I don’t do hero stuff, I do human stuff,” she said. “I work here on the streets to earn the trust of my community. The world had this opportunity to vote for 10 amazing organizations. , ‘Oh my god. People really care. People really care.'”
CNN’s Dan Przygoda contributed to this story.
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