Op-Ed: What do the homeless need?

Over the past six years that I’ve spent helping the skid row homeless community with beauty services, I’ve learned that the needs of our unwelcome neighbors go far beyond the need for shelter.

When someone loses their refuge, they also often lose the things that make us feel worthy and human: the ability to practice self-care, physical connections with others, and the ability to have and do things for no other reason than that. that make us feel good.

A turning point in my understanding of the needs of the uninhabited came when I saw the complete emotional transformation people had when I wore makeup and washed my hair with my makeshift curbside salon set-up. Wanting to look good is a good enough reason to want and deserve these services, but I’ve learned that requests for beauty items weren’t just about vanity.

Beauty routines serve as self-care, and the physical touch my team and I provide to the homeless offers a loving and sincere moment of human connection that this stigmatized community often lacks.

My volunteers and I view the work we do as emotional cardiopulmonary resuscitation. When someone performs CPR, the goal is to support the patient’s life until trained professionals can heal them completely.

Housing is absolutely a supreme need for most of the homeless community we serve, but our small group is unable to create the systemic changes that must occur to meet this need. So we do our best to support this community by providing the services we can.

Q is a community member for whom our team was able to perform this CPR. When we started serving Q, they asked us for cleaning products, plants to create a garden, and small pieces of furniture for their tent. Thanks to these donations and the support Q received from our social media family, I have seen them transform from a shy, calm person who was afraid of connecting with others, into someone who could still discover their own happiness. Thankfully Q was able to reunite with his family with the support of our group.

My work in the homeless community began by handing out sandwiches and hygiene kits, but the items I brought to the skid row changed as the community shared their real needs with me: makeup, hair products, a meal. loved from their childhood, their favorite candy and art supplies.

Recreational activities also provide purpose; we distribute artistic material and games. People in need don’t need to remember that they need. But they need to be reminded that they still deserve rest, recreation, love and care. We dance, play and have karaoke parties in the skid row streets. We also celebrate holidays and birthdays. All in the hope that the people on these streets can take a break from their struggles.

Many people have asked me why homeless people ask for things like makeup, hair dye, wigs, and eyelashes, which may seem insignificant to the people they host. I have come to recognize that those of us who are lucky enough to have housing may not understand that our homeless counterparts have many facets in our lives; some think that since this population is homeless, housing would be theirs alone Need. Yes, housing is an urgent need, but we can improve their lives in other ways too.

For example, we provide homemade hot meals because that’s what many of them ask for. Skid Row community members tell us about the foods they love from home, like their mom’s sloppy Joes or a favorite breakfast cereal they’d eat while watching Saturday morning cartoons. Our goal of nurturing this community goes beyond sustenance; we want to provide food that gives them comfort and the feeling of care that comes from knowing that a meal has been prepared with love.

Much of life is centered around choices and when you find yourself homeless, your ability to make choices for yourself is one of the first things you lose. Ultimately, the biggest lesson this job has taught me is: if you want to help those in need, you should ask them how they would like you to introduce yourself for them.

Shirley Raines is the founder of Beauty 2 the Streetz, a non-profit organization that cares for nearly 1,000 skid row people.
Instagram: @ beauty2thestreetz, TikTok: beauty2thestreetz

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