“This is just an amazing opportunity to see the homeless, to help them… people understand what they are going through,” she said.
“I think it’s important to change the narrative of what people think of Skid Row to see the similarities that we have,” Raines said.
Whatever the weather, she opens a weekly “shop” at the corner of 5th Street and Town to cater to what she calls “kings” and “queens.” Her goal is to help them see themselves as worthy, whether it’s a haircut, a facial, a hearty meal, or a hug.
Raines says he knows what it’s like to be labeled. For decades, she struggled with financial insecurity, grief and loss following the death of her first son.
“The world looked at me and thought probably the same thing they think about the homeless when they walk past them,” she said. “You never know what someone is going through, you know?”
After volunteering with a church group on Skid Row, Raines said it was the homeless community that helped her find purpose.
“I went to Skid Row and I was like, ‘Oh, where are all the broken people? Oh, I’ve been looking for you all my life,” she said. “I never wanted to leave.”
Previously, Raines began streaming her Beauty 2 the Streetz events live on Instagram and Tik Tok, and soon amassed a loyal following on social media. She has over 4 million followers on social media – people who not only want to help, but also follow her work and life. In times of need, Reigns often turns to them for donated tents and hygiene items.
And in 2021, when Raines found out she was one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes, she also encouraged her followers to vote for her for CNN Hero of the Year.
“As much as you want to say that 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 was very gratifying to know that social media really shook us up.”
Hosts Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa presented the award to Raines and thanked the Skid Row community and her children, including her late son, who inspired her work.
“I wanted people to understand that you’re not looking at a woman who buried a child, who started a non-profit organization, got her life back on track, and now she’s a CNN Hero winner,” Raines said. “You’re looking at a woman who has done all these things and remains very broken, yet still remains a CNN Hero winner.”
The Raines organization received $100,000 to expand its operations, and she says the money will go to nutrition programs. According to her, the number of homeless people is growing, and they need support more than ever.
“The work is ongoing,” Raines said. “But the hardest thing is getting support and help. Tents (and) blankets are badly needed here.”
For these innings by Reigns, the honor and reward was indeed a victory.
“It was like a team feeling,” said Skid Row resident Michael Jackson, who was featured in a profile article by Reigns. “Everyone came up to me… I was happy and proud just to know her. She has helped more people than you can imagine.”
Despite the honor, Reigns says he wants to stay down to earth and doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“I don’t do hero stuff, I do human things,” she said. “I work here on the streets to earn the trust of my community. The world had this opportunity to vote for 10 great organizations. And they chose the one that deals with homelessness… for those who can say, “Oh my God. People really pay attention. People really don’t care.”
Dan Pshigoda of CNN contributed to this story.