24 February 2015

Mobile showers offer dignity to San Francisco’s homeless

By Laura Smith 

In San Francisco, a local non-profit is restoring dignity to hundreds of homeless people, one hot shower at a time.

In a city where approximately 7000 people are homeless, there is just a handful of free washing facilities available to those living on the streets.

Lava Mae aims to change that by converting decommissioned city buses into mobile shower units, complete with hot running water and free shower, toilet and changing facilities. 

The project piloted its first bus on the streets of San Francisco in June 2014. It was soon providing between 300 and 500 showers a week to homeless people across the city.

Lava Mae's founder Doniece Sandoval said: "The first time people see the bus, they can't believe it contains showers and toilets. Their reaction is the most rewarding part of the project.

"It's been humbling to have someone thank you profusely for something so simple - something that the rest of us take for granted."

Here's what service user Bobby had to say after his first time on board the Lava Mae bus.

Doniece originally raised $75,000 to fund the first Lava Mae bus through crowdfunding site Indiegogo.

So far, the non-profit has sourced $110,000 through online crowdfunding and received a $100,000 grant from Google as a part of its Bay Area Impact Challenge program. This means they can now start work on creating a second unit.

Doniece aims to eventually have a fleet of four bright blue buses operating across San Francisco. "Once we have four buses on the road, we can offer 50,000 showers per year," she says.

But Lava Mae isn't just about providing hot showers for the homeless. It works on the idea that people experiencing homelessness can't access jobs or housing, or maintain health and well-being, if they can't get clean.

With hygiene comes dignity, and with dignity comes opportunity, says Doniece.

"It's been incredibly rewarding to hear stories of guests lining up job interviews, getting housing and generally improving their lives by being able to get clean on a regular basis.

"It's really amazing what a shower can do and the possibilities it can unlock."

Lava Mae is also starting to offer support and advice to hundreds of organisations that have already shown interest in replicating the project in their own communities, from cities in Santa Clara and Hawaii to Nigeria and South Korea.

For more information visit www.lavamae.org

Photos courtesy of Lava Mae/Sole Moller. This is a summary of an article by Laura Smith for INSP's News Service. You can read the original version here. Street paper editors can click here to view, download and republish the full article.