Lava Mae offers free showers to the homeless.

Ken Fisher

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Showers and Toilet on Wheels Give Homeless a Clean Slate

With a scrapped city bus and a handful of volunteers, Lava Mae provides hundreds of showers a week to those living on the streets of San Francisco.

Silas Borden has spent the last five years living on the streets of San Francisco. He’s used to making the best with what he has, so when he stumbled upon a bus offering free showers and toilet, he couldn’t resist. “Living on the streets, no matter how clean you try to stay, you’re going to be grimy,” said Borden as he prepared for his first shower in over a week, “and I want to wash it off.”

Borden is one of the first beneficiaries of a pilot program from the nonprofit Lava Mae, which has retrofitted an old city bus into a souped-up sanitation service on wheels. The bus, which is equipped with two showers and a toilet that run off city water, travels the streets of San Francisco and aims to provide 300 to 500 showers a week.

Doniece Sandoval, the brains behind the operation, was inspired after reading about the lack of options available to the more than 3,000 homeless living on her city’s streets. “There are only seven drop-in centers in the entire city, and that translates to 16-20 shower stalls,” says Sandoval, who plans to add three more buses to her fleet because of the success of these test runs.

 Read more about Lava Mae

Take Action

Make a Donation.

You can help Lava Mae bring hygiene and dignity to more homeless people across the country and around the world by contributing to the development of an online portal. With this new site, those interested in the Lava Mae model can access everything they need to deliver showers to the homeless in their own communities. Click "Contribute" to learn more about the effort, then make a donation, or even just sign up as a supporter and spread the word to friends.

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Jacob Templin is the director of video for NationSwell.