For some, ignorance may be bliss, but a wise person knows enough to ask the right people the right question. So when the late Pastor Doug Miller and his wife, Sandy, decided to help the homeless, the couple asked the people without a home what their most pressing needs were. Shelter, came the answer, then showers, then something meaningful to do.
Thus began Showers of Blessing. Founded five years ago, the organization offers showers to those who need them most. Sponsored by private donors and churches, ShOB currently moves the mobile shower trailer with two full bathrooms (each with a shower, toilet, and sink) to seven sites each week in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista.
ShOB’s dynamic Executive Director, Ken Ralph, explains: “We’ve chosen to put aside the big issue, with its big problems, big solutions, and in-your-face needs. We provide a respite for our ‘guests,’ with hot showers, clean towels, new socks, and underwear, plus a snack and time to socialize. This helps them maintain hope, to know they’re not abandoned. It’s also about restoring dignity, which includes the need to be useful instead of feeling like a victim or a burden. We reach out with unconditional love and say, ‘We see you and we care.’ “
The organization employs homeless people — three part-time, eight or ten who earn a monthly stipend, and 50 community volunteers. “Our volunteers,” Ralph says, “tell me how fulfilling it is to put their faith and good intentions to work. They do only what they’re willing to do, like laundering our towels at their homes, so no one is overwhelmed.”
This partnership is key to the organization’s growth. In 2018, on a budget of $131,000, 7,000 showers were provided. In 2019, $173,000 provided 8,000 showers, and this coming year, the goal is 10,000 showers.
“Our portable bathrooms help the general public, too,” Ralph said, “because cleanliness reduces the spread of diseases. Plus, we offer our facilities to agencies like the Red Cross, which provides emergency shelters during natural disasters, and during planned brownouts or blackouts due to necessary electrical maintenance.”
Recently, Ralph spoke at a junior high school and brought Courtney, a homeless woman who works part-time at ShOB. “I can take a hot shower,” she said, “and feel good about myself again. I can hang out with others like me, and it means a lot, because they’re the only family I have.” She showed items from a blue baby carriage, her “home”: clothing, bedding, rain gear, books, food, water, art supplies, and a Buddhist statue someone gave her. The kids were riveted.
Afterward, Ralph asked the audience, “What do you think our homeless friends need most?”
A timid girl in the front row raised her hand. “To be seen and loved?” Silence filled the room. “To be seen and loved,” Ralph repeated. “And, homeless or not, isn’t that what we all want?”
To volunteer or donate, email Ken Ralph at email@example.com.