It all started in 2012 when Doniece Sandoval overheard a homeless woman on the street crying that she would never feel clean again. Sandoval took this lament to heart and decided she wanted to do something to help. So she began doing some research to see how accessible showers were for San Francisco’s homeless population.
“There were about 16 shower stalls for 3,500 men, women and children who literally live on the streets,” she explains. “And I thought that’s crazy, this isn’t a third world country, yet here in San Francisco, one of the most affluent cities in the world, we have issues with access to water and sanitation.”
Not long after this discovery, she founded Lava Mae, a non-profit organization that takes retired public transportation buses and converts them into mobile hygiene units for the homeless. In June of 2014, they launched their pilot bus.
Since Lava Mae’s pilot in June 2014, they’ve provided almost 4,000 showers to just over 2,000 homeless individuals in San Francisco. And the Lava Mae team is not stopping, there are plans to expand their fleet. They are also working to turn their model into a tool-kit that other communities can replicate.