The city of Santa Rosa, California, in partnership with Catholic Charities, will roll out a trailer outfitted with private showers and bathrooms to serve its homeless population this week.
At four locations spread around different parts of the city, homeless people will able to avail themselves of a 10-minute hot shower as well as private toilet and sink out of the trailer towed by a pickup truck. The project cost the city about $87,450 to give Catholic Charities the money to buy and outfit the trailer and run it for a year.
The city’s goal is not just to provide the homeless with somewhere private to get clean, but to also use the opportunity to connect them with services. Social workers stationed at the trailers will talk to them about their needs and connect them with assistance, particularly permanent housing. “This is one piece of a larger puzzle of connecting people to vital services they so need and deserve,” Mayor John Sawyer told the The Press Democrat about the project. It is also aimed at reducing pollution in waterways from homeless encampments with no facilities.
Catholic Charities hopes to expand the program to more than one trailer. The city had 1,457 homeless people at the last count in early 2015, 805 going without shelter.
Similar projects have been piloted in other California cities. Since 2014, a nonprofit called LavaMae has turned old city buses into mobile shower and toilet stalls to serve the homeless living in San Francisco. A similar project called Dignity on Wheels is operating in Palo Alto. Both also pair sanitary services with outreach services to better serve the homeless. The whole state of New Mexico has even considered doing the same.
Most places, however, take a completely opposite approach, criminalizing many of the daily activities related to being homeless, such as urinating or defecating in public. These ordinances have been on the rise around the country, but California has been found to be particularly aggressive, with more than 500 anti-homeless laws across 58 cities.
Such an approach ends up being costly, as police and incarceration resources are marshaled to deal with the citations. Simply offering services and housing, on the other hand, has been found to save far more money. The federal government has also taken steps recently that indicates it considers the approach of criminalizing homelessness to be unconstitutional and will withhold federal funding from those places that engage in it.