For years, Jake Austin has been helping the homeless in St. Louis, Missouri by joining volunteer groups that give out goods like food and clothes. He started bringing soaps, shampoos, and other toiletries to donate when he noticed that the hygiene table wasn’t getting as much attention as the others, but there was still a problem: the products weren’t particularly helpful without a safe place for the homeless to use them. That’s how his washroom on wheels called Shower to the People came to be.
Austin bought a used truck from Craigslist for $5,000 and raised additional support through a GoFundMe campaign to renovate the interior, creating two private shower stalls, sinks, and mirrors. To get its water, the truck connects to fire hydrants, and it uses an external generator for heating. This way, it can easily travel all across the city, providing warm baths, a comfortable shave, and the simple pleasure of shower steam to 60 people in need every day. Shower to the People also has a social enterprise called Raise the Bar, which employs those who have previously experienced homelessness to make soap. The soap bars are given out to people on the streets and otherwise sold to fund the program.
Austin explains that the need for hygiene often gets overlooked. Homeless shelters around St. Louis are equipped with showers, but they’re only accessible to official residents, so people tend to save money for gym memberships for bath access or otherwise wash off using public sinks, libraries, the river, or hoses in strangers’ backyards. Maintaining basic cleanliness is crucial when it comes to obtaining and keeping a job, and it’s also instrumental in fighting infection and illness. (As Austin explains in the inspiring project’s introduction video: “Good hygiene promotes health, fosters hope, and restores dignity to those who may have lost it.”
Shower to the People offers a clever, convenient, and heartfelt solution, and Austin hopes to expand to more cities in the U.S. soon.
Here’s founder Jake Austin, standing with some of the bath supplies that his organization gives away to homeless visitors.
And here’s what some of the first people to benefit from Shower to the People had to say about the experience.
All images via Shower to the People.