What seems like a mundane 10-minute shower to some might be a blessing for another. That’s what the group behind Showers of Blessing, which operates under the umbrella of the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara, always has in mind — that change travels in an outward direction. The group offers free showers — from Isla Vista to Carpinteria — and free socks, underwear, towels, and laundry services.
The shower facility is a repurposed emergency response trailer and is outfitted with two full bathrooms, a water supply tank, a generator, propane tanks, and heaters. The water comes from the churches it parks at and also serves to irrigate the surrounding plants.
Ken Ralph, the general manager of the organization, began volunteering at the homeless shelter Casa Esperanza seven years ago. He said he was moved by the “common human experience” that everyone shares, houseless or not. Ever since, he’s dedicated his time to break down what he calls the wall that separates homeless people from the rest of the citizenry.
Ralph first heard about the mobile showers a year and a half ago. When he went to check them out, he met Reverend Doug Miller, whom Ralph calls the “Mother Teresa of Santa Barbara.” Miller, who passed away earlier this year from pancreatic cancer, asked Ralph to take over the mobile shower after his diagnosis. Since then, Ralph has expanded the area and services of the showers. The service provided 1,500 showers in 2015 and 4,000 in 2016, and Ralph estimates upward of 7,000 showers have been provided this year so far.
Ralph said he finds his motivation not from divinity but from spiritual consciousness. He classifies himself as a “Unitarian” and “humanist.” There is no praying or sermon involved with the showers. But he believes that all religions have an underlying theme of welcoming strangers. When Ralph helps out during a session, he realizes the thin circumstances separating him from the people he’s helping. A recovering alcoholic, he admits that he could easily be on the street if not for some strong support. He wants people to realize that every single person on the street has a story and a reason for where they are.
The program also helps in other ways. For example, it provides stipends to homeless volunteers and gives them work references to help them get back on their feet. The group operates largely through individual donations and partly through church charity. Operations Manager Linda McDaid is formerly homeless herself; she battled drug addiction and eventually wound up on the streets of Orange County. After going through rehabilitation, she found work at the showers, she said. “My want is to share with other people that they can do this — that they can get back on their feet.”
For more information, visit showersofblessingiv.org.