Top: Lava Mae volunteers Shawn and Torin stand outside the Cedar Street shower location in Berkeley. (Timothy Busby)
Homeless residents struggle to find the new mobile shower units.

Summertime is here in sunny Northern California, but what does that mean for the homeless living on the streets?

It’s not that hard to figure out, it means limited access to showers, sweating all day, wearing stinking clothes and a real need for access to the basic human necessities.

In the April issue of Street Spirit, I interviewed Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. During our conversation, he said, “we’ll be implementing a mobile shower program in Berkeley in a couple of weeks in South Berkeley, West Berkeley and in the South Side area, so we’ll have a mobile shower program.”

At the end of June, I went to a mobile shower location on 2nd Street and Cedar Street to see if the Mayor Arreguín was staying true to his word regarding the mobile shower program for the homeless.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the shower unit present at the Cedar St and 2nd Street location, operated by nonprofit, Lava Mae. I will admit it was quite impressive. Two young gentlemen, Shawn and Torin, were in charge of the shower unit. Both were very courteous and professional.

The trailer had three showers including a hand- icap accessible shower. They also offered personal hygiene kits, as well as socks and underwear. As I entered one of the showers I observed that it had a toilet, sink and a shower with a thick terry cloth towel to dry off with. It was exceptionally clean and well kept.

Each person has a 15-minute time window to shower with consistent hot water. I mention hot water simply due to the fact that many homeless people are forced to use water spickets, water hoses and or a cloth and water to wipe themselves clean, so a hot shower, clean socks and underwear is a big deal.

While I was at the location I had the privilege of meeting Patricia “Mama Bear” Moore and her loyal Labrador, Ebony.

Mama Bear is a 62-year-old woman confined to a wheelchair and living in Northwest Berkeley. She was a physical therapist for over 20 years before becoming homeless, and like many of us, as hard times hit she found herself living on the streets here in Berkeley.

Mama Bear was glad to see the City of Berkeley making an effort to provide something most take for granted. Never underestimate the importance of a good hot shower with new socks and underwear. Yes, something this simple can make a person feel like a human again.

I believe it’s important to give credit where credit is due, and the mobile shower program certainly great start.

However, there are some areas of concern.

Shawn and Torin informed me the average attendance for the shower unit on 2nd and Cedar is between 5 and 10 people per day. But Lava Mae has another mobile shower unit in Berkeley: on Mondays at Alcatraz and King Street. At this location, they normally service between 15 and 25 individuals.

So why is the volume so low at the 2nd and Cedar location?

One reason could be that it is on the outskirts of town in a desolate industrial area.

While there are many homeless individuals in this area that are in dire need of the mobile shower program, I have reason to believe that they
do not know where or when to find the mobile shower unit.

This became apparent to me when I first attempted to find out if the mobile shower program was in place, before I visited it at the end of June.

My first step was walking the streets of Berkeley and talking to homeless individuals I personally know in an attempt to find out if anyone has been using the mobile showers. To my many of the people I spoke with had even heard of the mobile showers in Berkeley. Of the ones who had, many did not know where they were, or where to find them.

At first I thought maybe no one was taking the time to go to the library to view the resource sheets for the homeless. Unfortunately, when I went to the Berkeley Downtown Library, there was no information available about the mobile shower program.

Next I checked the Internet for information on the City of Berkeley’s website. I still didn’t find any information about the mobile shower program.

As a last resort I contacted the mayor’s office and spoke with the mayor’s assistant, who informed me that I could go to to find information on the showers.

(Courtesy of Lava Mae)

Without contacting the mayor’s office, how would someone living on the streets find the showers?

The mobile shower program is definitely a step in the right direction, however the best plan is useless if no one knows where to find it.

I would ask that you, the reader, contact your District Council Representative and Mayor Jesse Arreguín and show your support for the Mobile Shower Program and request more funding be allotted in order to place more units in additional locations with more service days.

Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.