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A non-profit organization in San Francisco converts old buses to mobile showers


Ever thought of taking a shower in an old bus? A San Francisco non-profit has embarked on a project of converting old buses to mobile showers to serve the homeless.

Doniece Sandoval the founder of this project saw the popularity of food trucks skyrocket over the past few years and it sparked this idea. “If you can put gourmet food on wheels and take it anywhere, why not showers and toilets?” she asked in a launch video for her nonprofit organization called Lava Mae.

Her reason for starting the project is her belief that all humans have a right to be clean. She says that most people take cleanliness for granted, but for the homeless in San Francisco, it is a challenge because there are only 8 places in the city offering showers for them, and most of them are centrally located making it difficult for those who make their homes in other parts of the city to access.

After she came up with this idea to help the homeless, a story was run about the city replacing old Muni public transportation buses with a new fleet. She immediately jumped to this opportunity. She wanted those buses. So they reached out to Muni, and luckily enough found out that they have a donation program.

They will be transforming the buses into fully functioning shower and sanitation services that will serve thousands of men, women and children who do not have access to these facilities.

The next challenge was how to fit the buses for the plumbing necessary to run toilets and showers; more so because of the many regulatory restrictions in San Fransisco.

The buses will be gutted and fitted with two showers, each having its own private changing area, and two toilets. The buses will be driven by volunteer drivers and will traverse the city making stops at partner organizations serving the homeless. Their goal is to provide up to 125 showers per bus per day.

The architect BrettTerpeluk and his team came up with a plan in which the buses connect to city fire hydrants for water supply. Each bus has a 50-gallon hot water tank that uses propane. The showers are digitally controlled and supply both cold and hot water.

Doniece says that Lava Mae is not about ending homelessness but is about providing hygiene, because they believe that hygiene brings dignity, and dignity opens up opportunity.

According to CBS San Francisco the cost of converting an old bus is $75,000. This amount is used to retrofit the bus; gutting it, building 2 toilets, 2 private showers, changing stations and buying water heaters. It is also used in updating electrical system, creating ventilation and adding in water drainage.

Lava Mae is starting a pilot service this month and they hope to have a full launch with four buses by next spring.

They are on Indiegogo trying to raise funds for this project. They want to expand and increase access to the number of showers for the city’s homeless.

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