This Bus Is Transforming The Lives Of The Homeless

Image description: #1: Photo of a bus painted blue, looking clean and in good repair, with four icons (restroom man, restroom woman, mixed restroom man/woman, and person in a wheelchair) under shower heads. #2: Photo of a spacious, completely accessible restroom and roll-in shower.

The key point here is that they designed this in consultation with the  people who will be using it. It’s mobile so it can meet people where they are. It has private showers so women (and trans/gender nonconforming people, I would add, although the article doesn’t) feel safe. It has a secure place to store your things. And one of the four showers is completely accessible. I know a lot of wheelchair users who might rather use this shower than the ones in their own homes.

One Man's Trash is Another Man's....New Home?

In a new evolution of the Tiny Homes Movement, Oakland-based artist Gregory Kloehn is collecting trash and repurposing it into building materials to construct tiny mobile houses for the homeless.

Homeless Homes is using waste to provide a critical tool for folks experiencing homelessness.  They aren’t much - about the size of a sofa, on wheels with a roof - but they offer shelter, security, and mobility.  And they’re adorable!

Waste reuse, creative design, innovation, and homelessness - another new project for the homeless to watch out for!

Riding in a cab two years ago through the south of market (SoMa) district of San Francisco, which is primarily inhabited by startups and the homeless, Doniece Sandoval’s life changed. Her cab driver turned to her and said, ‘welcome to the land of broken dreams.’ With that, Sandoval started to really look at the people around her. After doing some research, she hit on the idea of taking old, unused city buses and retrofitting them with fully functioning showers for homeless people to use. Motivated by the belief that everyone has the right to be clean, Sandoval founded the non-profit LavaMae, a play on the Spanish word for “wash me”.

The first bus started running two weeks ago, with three more on the way. Once all four buses are running, Sandoval estimates the buses will be able to provide more than 2,000 showers per week to San Francisco’s homeless. Kara Zordel, Executive Director of Project Homeless Connect has high praise for Sandoval. “This is bigger than showers, this is community change through action,” says Zordel. “Sandoval serves as a role model that inspires me daily. One person can make radical change.”

This idea that started with one woman in San Francisco is quickly gaining traction worldwide. There are now similar programs started in Singapore and Brazil.

Making washcloths in hopes of being able to donate them to @lavamae. Lava Mae is a San Francisco non-profit organization that converted MUNI buses into mobile showers and toilet facilities for the homeless. I came across their videos on YouTube a few days ago. Unfortunately I am not able to donate money, but I’d love to be able to use up my cotton yarn to make washcloths to donate. #crafts #hobby #crochet #crochetaddict #cotton #handmade #donation #homeless #lavamae


Things have been a bit quiet on the Lava Mae blog, and back in the office too, because the LM team is in bus driver training over in the Port of Oakland!

With the help of our friends at the Academy of Truck Driving, Leah and Michael are spending two weeks taking spins around truck yards and cruising through Oakland in a training bus, getting ready for the Lava Mae mobile hygiene unit retrofit to wrap up. Stay tuned, you’ll know as soon as we do when we’ll be on the ground driving our own bus delivering showers and toilets to the homeless in SF.

In the meantime, wish us luck on our Class B commercial driver’s license test at the DMV!



Lava Mae is a social initiative by San Francisco resident Doneive Sandoval that turns decommissioned Muni buses into portable public showers for the homeless.  The program, which means “wash me” in Spanish, aims to provide San Francisco’s 3,400 homeless with adequate shower facilities and to ensure proper hygiene among the population. There are currently only 16 public showers operating on limited hours and days, making it difficult for them to clean themselves. 

The bus showers come with sinks and toilets. Towels and toiletries will also be provided. Sandoval hopes the showers will make them feel “less isolated and vulnerable”. 

The project is estimated at US$318,000 for the first year, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has promised Sandoval three more buses if the venture goes well. 

‘Lava Mae’ is scheduled to run in March 2014. 

What would life be like if you couldn’t shower when you wanted or needed to? That’s the reality for the tens of thousands of homeless people who make the streets of the cities and towns across this country their home.

You can change that by supporting Lava Mae, which is creating mobile showers and toilets to meet the need. One simple act of decency and compassion change a life.
#shower #bath #lavamae #donatenow #causes #changealife
Act now:

Project Homeless Connect

Team Lava Mae spent this morning at a Project Homeless Connect event at the Bill Graham Auditorium. PHC holds one-day events for the homeless population of San Francisco to provide tons of services they need all in one place, in addition to their daily drop-in services. If you live in the Bay Area, I strongly encourage you to volunteer at the next event. Besides getting some great warm fuzzies from spending a day giving back to your community, it’s such an incredible and necessary event for so many people living in our city. 

Today was my first PHC event and going into it, I really didn’t know what to expect. After some speeches and thanks from Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials, we got going. My colleague Leah and I volunteered in Child Care, where parents could drop off their kids before entering the venue to receive their services. We got to know all the kids in the few hours we were with them and had a blast playing, coloring, and giving out snacks. Afterwards we talked about how hard it was not to think about how rough their lives must be at such young ages and how moved we were by the siblings we met and watched how they took care of each other.

I was surprised by the amount of services that were provided in the auditorium. There were so many stations I would have never dreamed of, like a wheelchair repair station, acupuncture and massage, a book area, haircuts, foot washing, and many more. These services supplemented those you might expect from such an event like medical, dental, vision, employment services, and housing.

Even more overwhelming than the amount of services provided was the sheer amount of people who need them. The line to enter seemed never ending, which was definitely tough to see, but at the end of the day reminded us of Lava Mae’s mission and why we are doing what we do.  

Check out more about Project Homeless Connect here.

by Laura Stoddard

@sidewalksalon we are cutting hair on the streets of San Francisco for the homeless with our two visionaries @pixie.fields.4vr @christinadiannerx #pmtslife #paulmitchell #paulmitchellus #paulmitchelledu #pmts #pmtsedu #lavamae #visionaries #futureprofessionals #learningleader #educator #makeupspecialist #homeless #homelessinsf #hairstylist #makeupartist (at San Francisco, California)

Awesome Update

We have buses!!!

After months of chugging through seemingly endless hoops and red tape, we’ve finally gotten ahold of the four retired MUNI buses we’ve been waiting for.  Thanks to the good folks at Atlas Towing, who towed them all out to our space on Treasure Island.  Even more thanks to our contractor Joe Vaughn and all our friends at AIRCO Mechanical, who have the exciting process of bus—>hygiene machine conversion ahead of them :).  These guys have helped us keep the unfolding work of Lava Mae local and community-based, which we’re thrilled about.

Doniece is in high spirits, despite an untimely knee injury :). 

Next stop: mobile sanitation for the homeless!

by Leah Filler

Lava Mae's First Showers

I am very proud to say that I took the first shower on Lava Mae’s mobile shower bus.

Yesterday was our test run day outside the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, before we start our regular Saturday service this weekend.  Other than every challenge and possible problem imaginable, I think it went pretty smoothly!

First our fire hose, connecting our bus to the fire hydrant for water, was too short from our reserved parking spaces.  So we decided, with some chutzpah, to double park our big blue bus - not so discreet.  Managed to charm the meter maid though.  Then we couldn’t connect to the fire hydrant without spraying water everywhere.  Took us about 20 minutes to figure out that a water heater won’t turn on if the propane tank isn’t open.  Our bus setup took closer to three hours than 30 minutes, so we had to push back all our morning showers.  We couldn’t start the bus to move it when someone wanted to move a car we blocked in.  The neighbors yelled at us for blocking their space.  

After all that, I decided I needed a shower.  So I took our first shower, and washed some of that stress away.  I danced to the radio music piped in through speakers, and scrubbed my sweaty, stressed out self clean.

Here I am - tired, but clean! - with the amazing Deandra from the MNRC, holding our very first shower sign up sheet.  She was a champ, working with us every time I ran into to push back the first showers to 10am, then 11am, then 1pm, then 2pm.

And the ever fearless and fabulous Laura Guzman, MNRC Executive Director, stood by our side the entire day, keeping us cool, talking us down, and watching our backs.

So I’m happy to announce that, with the help and support of the MNRC, we did it.  We gave our first showers.  We are learning, growing, pushing, and fighting - one shower at a time.


Breaking It Down

The Chronicle and SFist published a breakdown of homelessness spending by the numbers here in San Francisco earlier this week. Here are some of the figures, via SFist:

  • 7,000: The estimated number of people who live without shelter or supportive housing, but instead live on San Francisco’s streets and/or in our parks
  • 10 years: The length of time the street-dwelling homeless population “has stayed pretty much steady” at that 7,000 figure
  • $34: The amount of money San Francisco spends per day, per homeless person (again, this includes people in shelters and supportive housing)
  • $6,000,000: The amount of money a Board of Supervisors committee recently agreed to add to the budget of local homeless outreach programs.

Interesting. In the spirit of Lava Mae, I’d like to add a few of my own:

  • 8: The number of facilities with showers for the homeless in San Francisco.
  • 2: The maximum number of shower stalls at each facility.
  • 1,930: The number of unsheltered people residing on the streets of Bayview.
  • 1: The number of facilities with a shower for the homeless in Bayview.

It’s all in the numbers. Let’s change them!


The Learning Shelter

When you teach a man to fish…

We all know how that one goes, and that’s why we’re so excited to see our friends at The Learning Shelter make this old adage a reality for the homeless population of San Francisco. With a recent kickoff of an IndieGoGo campaign, The Learning Shelter has a mission of helping those on the streets learn valuable skills. Marc Roth, the Shelter’s founder knows their mission will succeed. He can be sure, because it worked for him.

Before Marc founded a business and went on to head The Learning Shelter, he was homeless in San Francisco after dealing with medical expenses and the high price of living. Like so many others, Marc was faced with the immense challenge of combating homelessness. Finding a shelter to sleep in is work in itself.

He explains in his campaign video that when he discovered TechShop, and he decided put what little money he had into working on skills that would help to lift him out of the cycle of homelessness.  Marc learned 3D printing, laser cutting, computer skills, and other valuable skills to become part of San Francisco’s maker movement. Now Marc wants to provide this opportunity for others who are living as he did, with no bed, no roof, and no shower of their own. 

The Learning Shelter will be a 90-day live-in training program, where participants will receive classes and training to help them become successful in securing jobs.  With the backing of the Mayor’s office and the Institute for the Future, The Shelter is bound for success. The success of Marc’s project has the ability to bring positive changes to all of us living in San Francisco- whether we are sleeping on the streets or not. 

See the campaign video and how you can contribute here.

Source: Venture Beat

by Laura Stoddard

Walking a Thin Line

The other day a friend of mine told me about his coworker Sean, who, along with everyone else in his building, had just been suddenly evicted from his apartment by his landlord. Sean is now scrambling to find a new apartment in the next couple of months. This seems like a difficult enough problem to suddenly be faced with, but searching for an apartment in San Francisco, where market prices are astronomical, is a giant hurdle to leap over.

It turns out Sean’s landlord is evicting everyone to turn the building into upscale condos to sell. Whoever this is sounds like a villain in a kid’s movie, right?

Unfortunately, Sean’s situation is not an uncommon scenario. In fact, the reason that Sean’s landlord could so hastily evict each renter in the building is due to a law called the Ellis Act. Essentially, the law is a way for landlords to force out tenants when market prices are rising so that they can upsell the units.  Beginning in the dotcom boom, the numbers of evictions has been almost continually increasing. The Anti Eviction Mapping Project has a shocking interactive map of Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco here. If you’ve been a victim of eviction, you can also share your story on the Mapping Project’s site.

It’s easy for all of us to go about our every day lives taking the roof over our heads for granted. But because of laws like the Ellis Act, many San Franciscans, who may have never given it a second thought, could suddenly be left facing the very harsh reality of homelessness.

Imagine a single mom suddenly being slammed with an eviction. Or someone who was recently laid off. Or a senior citizen with no family close by. Or imagine it was you being faced with an eviction out of thin air. Once you’ve lost your home, it’s oftentimes an uphill battle to get a new one when you’re facing the housing market, the job market, trying to support your kids, whatever it may be.

We shouldn’t accept such a thin line between livelihood and homelessness in our community. Check out petitions and learn more about how we can change this.


"Just remember you're not forgotten."

Today the team took a brake from delivering showers, planning for more buses, and the ever ongoing fundraising race to roll the bus around to one of our funnest stops yet - the Alta Vista School, home to some very enthusiastic grade schoolers.

They helped us set it up and break it down, got to take a tour, and ask lots - lots - of questions.  They also created 71 hygiene kits for us, big plastic bags with soap, shampoo, wash cloths, razors, combs, socks, q-tips, and (cutest of all) handwritten notes for our homeless recipients:

"No matter who you are or how you live you still deserve equal rights.  Even if you may not be able to have everything, you still have earned a good wash! -Kokwe, 5th Grade"

"Hello! I hope you’re having a good day!  Don’t give up, and keep being positive.  I also really hope you like the little kits 5th grade made.  Just remember, you’re not forgotten. Your friend, Kaya, 5th Grade"

Ridiculously sweet!  We’re moved, practically to tears.  I’m sure even our roughest and toughest clients will be too.  <3