People who are homeless in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto could soon have free showers and laundry services through a new initiative that would bring the facilities to them.
The mobile Dignity On Wheels service would include showers, restrooms, washers and dryers in a trailer that would visit rotating shelters at local churches, including Palo Alto's 15-bed Hotel de Zink. The effort is being undertaken by East Palo Alto's Project WeHOPE, which also runs a shelter that serves 58 homeless citizens in East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, said Pastor Paul Bains, the nonprofit's president and founder.
The program's goal is to reach adults throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, at first by bringing the services to shelters and later to homeless encampments, Bains said.
Most emergency shelters do not have shower and laundry facilities, and many clients have difficulty finding or traveling to places to bathe or launder their clothes, he added.
The inability to maintain good hygiene has many implications for homeless persons and for society. Embarrassed, some people avoid important medical and mental health appointments, he said.
"Having a place to shower and clean clothes helps to restore dignity for clients. Society can be harsh if your clothes are dirty and your hair is not combed. We want to remove those stigmas," Bains said.
The hygiene services will also serve as a screen for other potential problems. Dignity on Wheels staff members will be able to spot clients' minor illnesses, such as colds, and help keep them from turning into pneumonia, Bains said. Each station will be equipped with a wireless tablet to allow staff to take information from clients and connect them with other services.
Project WeHOPE originally planned to operate two units -- one for each county -- but Santa Clara County officials have asked for an additional trailer to accommodate a large demand, especially after the shutdown of The Jungle homeless encampment in San Jose, Bains said.
Each unit would have two shower/restrooms and two washer/dryers. The units would be able to provide 30 showers and clean 18 loads of laundry per night at the rotating shelters. The host churches would provide water, electricity and sewer hookups; clients would do the janitorial work.
During the daytime, the units could travel to homeless encampments, where each unit would offer an additional 60 showers and 36 loads of clothes per day, Bains said.
Used day and night, the units would provide roughly 29,000 showers and more than 17,500 loads of clean laundry annually, he said.
The program would eventually add a volunteer nurse and case-management services to offer medical assistance, referrals and counseling to encampment residents, he said. A truck that would accompany each trailer would be stocked with towels, soap and used clean clothing and would have a fresh-water tank and generator. Locations for dumping gray and black water still need to be identified, according to a program summary.
The project needs about $170,000 for the three units, Bains said. So far, the organization has raised $50,000 in the last 60 days. Oakland-based Philanthropic Ventures Foundation has committed $44,000 of that money, Bains said.
Dignity On Wheels is inspired by Tide Loads of Hope, the detergent company's mobile-laundry-services program for disaster victims, which were deployed after hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, Bains said. Project WeHOPE also studied San Francisco's Lava Mae, which offers homeless persons showers in converted city-donated buses, Bains said.
People interested in donating to Dignity On Wheels can visit projectwehope.org or send a check to Project WeHOPE, P.O. Box 50624, Palo Alto, CA 94303. Checks should be made out to Project WeHOPE with Attn: Dignity On Wheels in the memo line.