Mobile showers will let homeless wash away dirt, soak up dignity

Mobile showers will let homeless wash away dirt, soak up dignity

Church in the Park Modesto next month will begin offering free hot showers through its Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle. (Andy Alfaro/
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Church in the Park Modesto next month will begin offering free hot showers through its Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle. (Andy Alfaro/

“It’s all about dignity. If you’re dirty, you can’t get a job, you don’t feel good about yourself. You need to be clean. You can’t just go walk into a place looking for a job if you’re all messed up and dirty and unshaven. …You give up hope.”

That’s what Kevin Dole, homeless for about seven years, told Church in the Park President Dean Dodd, who was interviewing homeless Modestans for a video about the church’s new Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle.

As the name suggests, the mobile showers, which are set to go into operation in early August, are about more than literally washing away grime and sweat. By letting the homeless take hot showers, they’re about helping restore dignity, health and hope, Dodd said.

The shower shuttle is the fruit of about 10 months of labor by Church in the Park leaders and other volunteers. The seats of a donated 2003 Ford E-450 Super Duty 2003 shuttle bus were removed and the inside remodeled to accommodate two spacious shower and changing areas, a linen cabinet and a tankless water heater. All it needs to operate at partner locations is a water spigot and a sewer cleanout for drainage.

We believe it’s not only a good idea but a God idea.

Dean Dodd, president of Church in the Park Modesto, on the Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle

Talking about the volunteers’ long hours working on the shuttle after their day jobs ended, Robert Rodrigues said, “All of us went back to the trades of our past.” Rodrigues, who with wife Ava is in charge of the Church in the Park children’s ministry, owns the business Rocky Art Designs and did the shuttle’s graphics wrap. But the former woodworker also cut all the plywood framing that was coated with spray-on truck bed liner to waterproof the shower areas. “I hadn’t worked with wood in years,” he said.

“We’ve used every skill we’ve ever been taught,” added Doran Ott, who’s on the Church in the Park setup and tear-down crew and also maintains its vehicles, now including the shuttle.

There are close to 2,000 homeless people in Modesto with no access to shower facilities except for evening showers at Modesto Gospel Mission and The Salvation Army shelter, Dodd said. He once was homeless for about a year and a half but landed at Modesto Gospel Mission so he could shower nightly.

But among the homeless are people with pets or mental or addiction issues that prevent them from complying with the requirements of those facilities, he said. Others simply can’t get to those locations.

The goal with Cleansing Hope, Dodd said, is to partner with churches and other facilities to make showers available in other parts of the city on a set schedule. The free service will launch at Vine House Ministries in west Modesto on Mondays and Wednesdays in August. The starting date and hours have not been set.

Church in the Park modeled Cleansing Hope after the Lava Mae mobile showers operated in San Francisco. Other communities that have mobile showers for the homeless include Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Palm Beach County.

“I think it will mean an amazing amount of dignity to them,” said Cheryl Van Horn, director of Vine House Ministries, which is an outreach to drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and the homeless. “We only have restrooms … and a lot want to take showers.”

Many of the people Vine House assists choose not to go to the mission or Salvation Army, so “when they come from the park or the river or wherever they’re staying, they’re usually very dirty. I’ve talked with them about the showers, and they’re super excited.”

Vine House averages 100 clients a day, sometimes as few as 70, sometimes as many as 200. “We’ll probably have to take a waiting list” for showers, Van Horn said. “Dean has a great plan laid out, in which we’ll take names down, and if they’re not served Monday, then they get to shower Wednesday.”

Eventually, Church in the Park plans to offer the shower shuttle service five or six days a week and have its schedule listed on homeless resource pamphlets. The two showers will accommodate four people per hour and could operate six to eight hours at a location. One of the shower stalls can accommodate wheelchairs, and the bus has a lift.

Each person showering will have about 25 minutes on the shuttle, Dodd said. “We want to be generous with the time behind the closed curtain,” he said. The 25 minutes includes time to undress, then dress after showering.

The shower time – not yet determined but likely to be 10 minutes – will be fixed and displayed on a timer once a person turns on the water. Keeping in mind that some people use wheelchairs or have other disabilities, or may have small children to also wash, Church in the Park staff figure 10 minutes sounds sufficient and that many people won’t need that long.

One hundred eighty showers a week. I know it sounds like a drop in the bucket, but for those 180 people, it will make a big difference.

Kelli Ott, Church in the Park board secretary

The low-flow showers put out 1.5 gallons per minute. “We know we’re in a drought, and we’re trying to be as conservative as we can,” Dodd said. “There may be some pushback, some naysayers, who say don’t do anything for the homeless and they’ll leave Modesto. But that’s not going to happen.

“They use a lot less water than we do,” he added, pointing out they have no lawns to water, no dishes to wash, no swimming pools to fill. “We think they’re deserving of 10 to 15 gallons of water to shower.”

Each person who showers will be given a waterproof tote bag that contains a washcloth, towel, toothbrush, toothpaste and a razor. Shaving cream and deodorant also will be available. There also will be bins of underwear and tube socks for men, women and children.

Like everything Church in the Park does, the shower shuttle is about seeing a need and trying to fill it, said Kelli Ott, secretary of the church board. “We want this to be a hand up out of their situation,” she said. “We really put a lot of love and thought into this.”

Added Doran Ott, her husband, “The homeless, they’re used to getting things that are seconds. When you donate clothing, you don’t give them the shirt you bought yesterday. But they don’t get seconds here – this is the first.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327