Showering Love Provides Mobile Showers To South Florida's Homeless
It looks like a tour bus in the middle of a gated parking lot in downtown Miami.
It’s Sunday morning and a line is starting to form. Seven people so far.
The bus was converted to house two two-shower stalls inside — one is accessible for people in wheelchairs.
“It’d be nice, the hot water,” said Robert Ruiz, a 57-year-old homeless man and the first in line.
When people are experiencing homelessness, they can go days, sometimes weeks without a shower.
In South Florida, permanent public indoor showers specifically for the homeless do not exist. Some shelters do open their doors for people to shower, but that’s not always accessible.
Jeane Lewis, who was once homeless herself, created the nonprofit Showering Love to provide mobile showers for the homeless. She calls the bus, “Grace”
“Because we’ve all been showered by grace,” Lewis said.
Next in line for a shower was Patricia Jackson, who was five months pregnant.
“Last time I took a shower was Wednesday,” she said.
Wednesday was three days ago. She showered at Camillus House, one of the few homeless shelters that opens its doors for showers to the public, but Jackson said she can’t always make it there. Sometimes she misses the window when the shelter is open for showers Mondays through Fridays.
Jackson says she has very sensitive skin and not being able to get clean has made her skin break out.
“I keep getting infections off and on,” said Jackson.
Everyone who showers gets a bag with toiletries, clean underwear, socks and there’s a pantry with clean clothes.
Lewis, the CEO of Showering Love, says that when she goes out into the community, she sees herself in the people she’s helping because she was once in their shoes.
“Begging for food, wearing the same clothes all the time,” she recalled. “The one thing I couldn't get was dignity in the form of the shower.”
And Lewis knows it can be really hard to leave all of their possessions in a cart or on a sidewalk to go find a shower at a homeless shelter — or to have enough money to catch the bus to to use the outdoors showers at the beach or a public pool.
About four years ago, she asked her friends to donate their time and money to create a shower bus.
Rowdy Gifford, a longtime friend of Lewis’and a master plumber, designed and installed the plumbing.
“The first shower when we did the grand opening, it was a handicapped gentleman in a wheelchair. And when he came off there, he was so happy,” he said.
So far the bus has provided more than 8,000 showers across Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, but Showering Love doesn’t have the funding or resources to provide daily showers.
It costs about $1,000 for the bus to set up for a few hours. That doesn’t include regular maintenance costs and upkeep.
There are a few other mobile showers operated by nonprofits, but they don’t offer daily showers either.
Ryan Jackson, whose wife Patricia is the woman who’s pregnant, said he feels like people experiencing homelessness are an afterthought for many others.
“We need to shower, too. Just because we live outdoors, we don't have a fancy home or apartment or car or scooter or bicycle doesn't mean anything,” he said. “The homeless are people, as well.”
He said he’d like to see a permanent solution for showers near downtown Miami for people who are homeless.
Two years ago, the city of Jacksonville funded a “Rest Stop” that offers showers and free laundry to homeless people who aren’t in the shelter system.
On a recent Sunday in downtown Miami, after the people using the Showering Love mobile shower come out, they were greeted with compliments and kind words.
“You look awesome. How do you feel? You feel good? You look very nice,” said Lewis to a woman leaving the shower with a fresh set of clothes and damp hair.
Showering Love usually teams up with other nonprofits to offer showers at different locations across South Florida. They’re in downtown Miami about once a month.
Most of the people who showered that day said they don’t know where they’re going to get their next shower.