It's a question that people living on the streets are used to hearing in various forms, in social-media comment threads and occasionally yelled harshly into their ears: "Why can't you just get a job?"
Many say they'd like to, but finding and holding down a steady job long enough to make the amount of money needed to get off the streets is a challenge. For one thing, you're better off going to a job interview or work if you're freshly showered and dressed in clean clothes. When you're living on the streets and you can't just hop in a shower at will, that's not easy to achieve. Hygiene becomes secondary to food and shelter as a need, and it becomes part of the cycle that keeps people in poverty, homeless advocates explain.
Bayaud Enterprises, a Denver nonprofit that is in its fiftieth year of helping people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness find employment, hopes to help tackle that problem by launching a mobile shower truck that will provide unhoused people around the city the opportunity to shower for free. Bayaud showcased the new truck at Civic Center Park today, October 9; it will begin operating next week.
"The creation of the laundry trucks and the shower truck came from the streets," Bayaud Executive Director David Henninger, who is retiring this year, said at the launch event.
Bayaud's two laundry trucks, which have operated in Denver for as many years, travel on a set schedule to churches, shelters, public libraries and other locations where unhoused people often congregate. (Bayaud officials say the trucks are the first of their kind in the country.)
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The shower truck, which is really just a shower trailer, will work in a similar way. Pulled by a white truck, the trailer is outfitted with two spacious private shower areas that are ADA accessible, with other amenities such as a sink, mirror and electrical outlets to allow people to use hairdryers or other appliances. Bayaud has a partnership with Denver Water that will allow it to use any fire hydrant in the city to pump water into the two showers. The gray water will be collected in bins affixed to the truck. People will be able to use the shower rooms on a first come, first served basis, for about twenty minutes at a time.
According to Riley Cockrell, Bayaud's mobile services program manager, the team heard from people who use the laundry truck that a shower truck was a serious need. Homeless people might be able to shower at day shelters or rec centers with a discounted pass, but options are limited, especially for someone camped far away from those services, and the showers are usually not private.
The trucks are also job sites. Many of the workers Bayaud employs to help clean and operate the trucks are people who have recently lived on the streets. The staff that will keep the shower trucks clean came from the Denver Day Works program that Bayaud runs. And when people use the truck, Bayaud helps connect them with the other services it provides.
The truck was funded by private donations, made largely by the Wiesner Family Foundation. It will make its first stop on Tuesday, October 15, at Bayaud Enterprises, 333 West Bayaud Avenue.