Homeless Modestans get first showers on Cleansing Hope shuttle

Mobile showers for Modesto homeless

Church in the Park launches its Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle at Vine House Ministries on MLK Drive. It will be there Mondays and Wednesdays. Deke Farrow/
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Church in the Park launches its Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle at Vine House Ministries on MLK Drive. It will be there Mondays and Wednesdays. Deke Farrow/

Church in the Park’s Cleansing Hope Shower Shuttle went into action Monday, providing hot showers to 19 homeless people over 4 1/2 hours.

“I’ve been needing this for two weeks. ... Oh, my God, it was so good,” Timothy Santiago said after showering and shaving. He said he usually cleans up with cold water in park restrooms, canals or rivers, and that a warm shower was a rare treat. “I feel so light. I was heavy for a minute; now I feel light.”

Each person gets about 25 minutes on the shuttle, which includes undressing, a 10-minute shower, then dressing again. Another homeless man, Royce Tyler, said the experience “went great.”

Tyler said he showers at a friend’s home once or twice a week. “I’ll be a regular if it’s around,” he said of the Shower Shuttle. “Ten minutes is perfect time for a shower.”

The water-saving shower head puts out 1.5 gallons a minute, said Dean Dodd, president of Church in the Park. “It’s a good, brisk water spray” that allows people to clean up quickly. Men shaved behind the shuttle, where a table was set up with shaving cream, safety razors and a basin of warm water, right next to a bus-mounted mirror.

It was awesome. I loved it.

Timothy Santiago, after his shower and shave

Cleansing Hope will operate at Vine House Ministries, 523 N. Martin Luther King Drive, from 9 a.m. until as late as 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, as demand calls for it, Dodd said. Church in the Park hopes to develop other partnerships to eventually “blanket the city” with hot showers for the homeless.

The crew wrapped up about 2:30 p.m. Monday, but he anticipates being open later as word spreads. From what he heard as people exited the bus, “They’re going to tell their friends, and they’re going to tell their friends, and so on. We’re going to be booked,” Dodd said.

Monday’s launch let Church in the Park staff identify a small problem and act quickly to fix it before demand grows. The shuttle’s battery bank proved insufficient to keep the shower going its first day. It conked out on a man halfway through his timed shower, Dodd said, but starting the bus engine was all it took to offer an additional four or five showers.

Staff members don’t want to have to run the engine to keep the power going, though, so Dodd was on his way Monday afternoon to buy a small, gas-powered Honda generator and a converter.

It’s a learning experience he’ll be able to share with other groups that have contacted Church in the Park about starting similar mobile-shower operations. Dodd said he’s thankful to be surrounded by Church in the Park volunteers who have expertise and, more important, passion for making the shuttle a success.

I just hope it stays that people don’t mess it up for the people who respect it.

Robert Melton, on following the 21 posted Shower Shuttle rules, which include no drug or tobacco use, no threatening behavior, no urinating in the showers

“If not for the heart of our team, this would still be a long, long time coming,” he said. “They believed in the cause. That’s what I tell them (other groups working on shuttles): ‘Get your team together, people who want to do the work, and doors will start opening.’ 

One of those people Dodd leans on is Doran Ott, who’s on the Church in the Park setup and tear-down crew and also maintains its vehicles, including the shuttle. “The thing’s got 260-something thousand miles on it,” he said, looking at the shuttle. “We don’t need it brand new. It’s not like we’re taking it on the highway, just around town.”

Ott said he likes that the old bus has a new lease on life, the same as the people it’s serving.

“Repurposed for the Lord,” added Peachy Dove, Church in the Park’s webmaster.

All but a few of the people who showered on the shuttle Monday were men, which reflects who’s on the streets – far more men than women, Dodd said.

Among them was John Lacey: “I would say if they haven’t had one, come and enjoy it.” Lacey said he sometimes showers at an uncle’s home – “I didn’t burn all my bridges” – but anticipates using the Shower Shuttle regularly.

So does Robert Melton, who was shaving prior to taking his shower Monday morning. “I think its a good deal here. I think people should take advantage while it’s still here and free,” he said. He added that he hopes people don’t violate the rules with bad behavior or drug use – “anything that will mess it up for everyone else.”

Melton said he’s able to take cold showers about every other day and hot ones about every week and a half. He doesn’t like to bother family, he said, “but once in a while I will ask for a shower. Everybody has bills they gotta pay, so when I do go there and shower, I’m in and out. … Hot water’s not free.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

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