You’ve been camping in the mountains, and you come home tired and disheveled. What you want most is to get into a hot shower and get cleaned up. For most of us this is a real possibility. But for our friends with no roof over their heads — sleeping in doorways, the bushes, or in their cars — there are only library and restaurant restrooms or cold showers at the beach. The most basic part of reintegrating into society is to look essentially like everyone else — neat, clean, and tidy.
An ecumenical Goleta Valley group called HEAL (Health, Empowerment And Love), a member of the Interfaith Initiative, has been working for some years to help meet the needs of the houseless in our community. Through a “Monthly Meet and Greet” at the Goleta Valley Community Center, the group has been providing lunch, clean clothing, and access to services such as the public health nurse and flu shots. In addition, its members have been advocates for very low-income affordable housing and the Safe Overnight Parking program for people living in their cars or RVs.
But it became obvious to the group that a great and primary need for those without a home was for a way to get thoroughly clean. The houseless were the first to state that a way to get physically clean came a close second after the need for a safe place to sleep at night. The ability to move freely in society — go shopping, apply for a job, travel by bus — meant they had to blend in with the people around them.
The breakthrough for HEAL came when some members saw a video of a shower trailer at a San Fernando Rescue Mission child-care center. HEAL immediately recognized that this was the answer for the houseless in Goleta and Isla Vista. They located a two-shower trailer, and Christ Lutheran Church of Goleta, led by its pastor, Rev. Ron Cox, agreed to purchase it with its portion of funds from the sale of the University Religious Center building. HEAL took it on as a project, dubbed it “Showers of Blessing,” and found a donor for a truck to pull it from place to place.
Linda McDaid, a HEAL member, is operations manager for the trailer. She signs people in and provides clean towels and eco-friendly soap. In addition to a shower (five-minute maximum), people can leave their old clothes to be washed, or in some cases dumped, and can choose from an array of clean, gently used garments to complement their newly washed condition. “The goal is to help their self-esteem, their health issues, and their confidence is getting employment, getting on their feet, and being productive in society,” McDaid said. A bonus for her is that as she checks people in for a shower, she gets to talk to them and gets to know them. This is important to their becoming part of the community. McDaid anticipates adding hair cuts in the future to the services offered at the trailer.
The need is there. In the last three weeks, between 11-15 individuals have used the showers each time the trailer has appeared at its three sites in Isla Vista and Goleta. Some of the individuals enjoying the showers said: “How can I thank you? This is an amazing blessing” and “If I am clean, I am happy” and “I feel like a real person for the first time in three months.”
Showers of Blessing is in Isla Vista twice a week — on Mondays at St. Michael’s University Church, 6586 Picasso Road, from 2:30-4:30 p.m.; and on Thursdays at St Mark’s Catholic Church, 6550 Picasso Road, from noon-2 p.m. On the last Monday of the month, it is at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Avenue, from 10:30 a.m.-noon. UCSB students volunteer to clean the unit between showers when the Trailer is in Isla Vista, and HEAL members help at Goleta Valley Community Center. The station at the Community Center is on a trial basis at this time, but it received unanimous approval to go ahead from the Goleta City Council.
The work Rev. Cox has done to make the shower trailer happen was recognized by and received thanks from 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, Susan Klein-Rothschild, assistant director of County Public Health, and Mayor Michael Bennett, who was once a firefighter and said he knew all about five-minute showers from his time on the line during backcountry fires, where the men used similar shower trailers.
Of course, this project does not run on good will alone. There are expenses for the water, cleaning supplies, laundry for towels and clothing, and gas and maintenance for the truck. If you would like to help this project, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to IFI-HEAL and send it to Christ Lutheran Church, 6595 Covington Way, Goleta, CA 93117. You may also contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 637-3106