GOOD

How We're Bringing Showers to the Homeless

One day two years ago, I happened to pass a young woman sitting on the street. She was crying and saying over and over to herself that she'd never be clean. I live in San Francisco, where it's impossible to be unaware of the homeless.

One day two years ago, I happened to pass a young woman sitting on the street. She was crying and saying over and over to herself that she’d never be clean. I live in San Francisco, where it’s impossible to be unaware of the homeless. For years, I’d wanted to do more than volunteer or donate to an organization. But it wasn’t until that day that I took action, inspired by the words of the young woman.


I knew her challenges were deeper than I could imagine, but a light bulb went on in my head as I thought about how I might be able to help her get superficially clean. That night I began to research shower resources for San Francisco’s homeless and was shocked by what I learned: there are approximately 16 shower stalls for the more than 3,000 men, women, and children that make the streets of this city home.

At the same time, the food truck craze was at its height. If we could put gourmet food on trucks and take it anywhere, I thought, why not showers and toilets?

I did some research and found I wasn’t the first person to think about this. There are about half a dozen mostly small communities around the country—all led by faith-based groups—using converted mobile homes and horse trailers and, in some cases, even commercial shower units. I talked to all of them and they told me stories of transformation; that the homeless using their mobile showers “felt human for the first time in a long time” or “were recovering their sense of dignity.” I thought, if they could do it, so could we—and so our project, Lava Mae, was born.

What hit me next was the stark reality that I had no experience with the homeless and that if I didn’t engage the organizations that were doing this well, I would fail.

My first chat was with Jennifer Friedenbach from the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. I was terrified she’d be dubious about the idea and about my inexperience and general naiveté about this issue. Instead, her response was the exact opposite. And she, like every other homeless service provider I talked to afterwards, said the same thing: how can we help you get this off the ground?

Since then, we’ve continued to build support and partnership with nonprofits serving the homeless.

We’ve also secured the donation of retired MUNI buses and the authorization from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to access to water via fire hydrants, all because of Bevan Dufty at the Mayor’s Office of HOPE (Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement), who has been instrumental to our progress.

After our IndieGoGo campaign, we hope to be on the streets of San Francisco by early 2014, providing upwards of 80 showers per day. By 2015, we’ll have four buses on the road offering 240 showers per day five to six days a week. That amounts to more than 1440 opportunities for the city’s homeless to get clean.

The bigger vision, however, is to share this with communities around the world. We’re working to create a replicable model that will guide anyone interested in launching something similar. We’ve already had interest from people in other cities throughout California, Atlanta, and even as far away as strife-riddled Cairo, Egypt.

This project will be featured in GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

Image courtesy of Andrea Starr Reese

Articles
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less
Health