When people want to help the homeless in their area, they tend to think of the immediate needs: food, warm clothes and toiletries.
But, when you actually stop to think about it, what good are new clothes and deodorant when you haven’t been able to wash properly in months?
Think how nice it is to step into a long, hot shower after a tough day and imagine what it would be like never, or rarely, having access to private, safe washing facilities.
That is the thinking behind Shower to the People’s Mobile Shower Unit.
People can get food and clothes, but if they haven’t had a shower in three months, they can’t get a job even flipping burgers,’ says Jake Austin, a 31-year-old pastor from St. Louis, Missouri, who purchased an old truck from Craigslist for $5,000 (£3,860) and set about transforming it into a mobile shower unit.
The unit now contains two shower stalls, offering total privacy, with changing areas, plus a long row of sinks and mirrors where people can shave and clean their teeth.
The truck connects to fire hydrants to get its water and uses an external generator for heating.
As of the end of May, it has been visiting multiple locations across the greater St. Louis area every week, providing free and easy access for those who would otherwise have no opportunity to get clean.
They are able to offer around 60 hot showers to those in need every single day.
Austin and Shower to the People also run a social enterprise called Raise the Bar, which provides part-time employment to people who have previously experienced homelessness. The soap made by Raise the Bar employees is distributed free to those using the mobile shower unit.
Austin hopes the simple gesture of offering a private space where people can wash will help restore dignity, where it has been lost, to those living on the streets.
‘If we can get people regularly clean, we can give them some hope,’ he told St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ‘Get some hope in their bones, they can take the next steps. They can keep climbing.’