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Lava Mae will launch free showers for the homeless in San Francisco via bus

A group in San Francisco is trying to help turn an issue of homelessness around by providing the simplest of services: Access to hygiene.

Lava Mae has retrofitted a bus to be able to house two showers, toilets and changing rooms for the homeless in San Francisco
Lava Mae press kit

What’s more is they’re doing that by recycling buses that the city was no longer able to use. The founder of Lava Mae (which seems like a play on the Spanish phrase for “wash myself,” lavame), Doniece Sandoval, says that in the city of San Francisco there are only seven locations for the city’s homeless to bathe. She continues, “ So we’re looking at 16-20 shower stalls for the 3,500 people who actually live on the street and that’s untenable. And I just thought, if you have take gourmet food and put it on wheels, why not showers and toilets?”

Sandoval read an article about the feds giving money to the city to replace old diesel buses and was curious what was actually going to happen to them. She found out there was a donation process and was able to obtain a bus.

But of course, in the city of San Francisco there are many regulations and permitting issues to tackle first. They realized that driving a large bus with giant water tanks would destabilize the vehicle, so they decided to pull water from fire hydrants.

Lead architect Brett Terpeluk says, “The biggest challenge, I think, was how to deal with all the blackwater and greywater, which is generated from two showers running every half hour, eight hours a day. That’s a lot of water.”

Each bus has two showers in it and in each shower is a skylight and digitally controlled shower temperatures for hot and cold. The bus will also offer soap, shampoo and towels free of charge. The total cost of restructuring the van was $75,000 and was funded through private donations, including one from Google.

For now, the group is partnering with an existing non-profit group that helps the homeless but doesn’t have the ability to provide hygiene. The official launch of the bus will be in spring of 2015, and the group plans on launching more vehicles.

Of her mission, Sandoval says, “We believe hygiene brings dignity, and dignity opens up opportunity.”