Nonprofit StartUp Brings Dignity to Homeless ‘One Shower At a Time’

lava mae bus

San Francisco is often in the news for its wealth and super high housing prices.  The tech capital of the nation also has a substantial homeless population. There are only 7 locations in the city where homeless people can take showers which amounts to 16-20 showers for 3,500 people.

We love when we learn about groups that are actually doing something about social issues rather than just talking.

Social justice StartUp Lava Mae uses decommissioned MUNI buses in San Francisco that it retrofits to provide showers to some of the city’s homeless population.

“Lava Mae is not about ending homelessness,” founder  Doniece Sandova said of her organization’s mission. “What we are about is providing hygiene because hygiene brings dignity and dignity opens up opportunity.”

Through a donation program, the city gave the non-profit its first bus in 2013 and by 2014 its first bus was on the road. The nonprofit now has two operating buses with a third one planned for early next year.

Lava Mae draws water from fire hydrants in the city. Since launching, it has been a God-send to many of those on the streets to get 20 minutes of privacy and a fresh shower to recharge. It partners with existing nonprofits that service the homeless but don’t offer showers. Lava Mae then augments their services.

As one can imagine, many in cities world wide want to replicate this model.  Lava Mae has also been working on publishing its plan on an open-source basis so other groups in other cities can do the same for their communities.

Current struggles include dealing with a broken bus set out of commission due to an electrical problem and finding drivers willing to work for $16 when corporate bus services pay so much more, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in a recent feature on the StartUp.

Watch these two videos for more insight in how the buses came to be and how it’s working so far.