Posted by Chris Graham on Mar 20, 2018
Streetside Showers sets up at Our Daily Bread to assist each Friday

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A man named Edward wants to know how soon he can get into one of the mobile showers outside Our Daily Bread, the local soup kitchen.

"Do I need to show my ID?" Edward asks, balancing his Styrofoam cup of coffee and flashing his identification at the first person he sees.

Edward isn't alone. A line is forming outside of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, where Our Daily Bread serves food and offers social services to the needy and homeless each weekday.

Friday was the third week Streetside Showers pulled up next to the downtown church, hooked hoses to the church water line and reeled an extension cord from the shiny trailer to the church.

Then — presto! — hot water ran from the tap in the mobile bathroom suites. But Edward? He has to sign up to use the trailer. He has a 45-minute wait and heads in the church for lunch.

"I can't remember exactly where I saw them," said Darhyl Ramsey, the community service chairman of the Denton Morning Rotary Club. "But I saw Streetside Showers on the news, and I started to think. I wondered, 'What's our job on this homeless issue?'"

Ramsey, a member of the music faculty at the University of North Texas and a member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, talked to his peers in the Rotary Club. The club committed funds to cover some of the water and power costs the church uses to operate the mobile showers.

"It seemed like something small we could do for the homeless," Ramsey said. "We can't solve the problem. We don't have the money to solve it. But we can help other organizations and make a bigger impact."

Lance A. Olinski says on paper, Streetside Showers is a humanitarian charity. But Olinski was ordained as a nondenominational Christian minister in 1992. Today, his ministry is behind the wheel of the crisp white Lincoln Navigator (with logo decals on driver and passenger sides of the SUV).

"This is really about restoring some dignity for people who need it. And they deserve it. These are human beings," he said.

Olinski hauls the trailer to public places in McKinney, Plano and now Denton. In the spring, Olinski will drive the trailer to downtown Dallas.

He partners with nonprofits so he can park and level the shower trailer during the day and hook up to water and power. He currently visits sites once per week.

Olinski said he hopes to do more and will drive to Chicago next week to pick up a new mobile shower unit. The second trailer will have two small bathrooms and a third suite that is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will be like the trailer he has now — the stalls have a sink, commode and shower — but the third will have wider dimensions, a drop-down wheelchair ramp, assistance bars on the walls and a shower chair.

"Then we can help people who have trouble getting around," he said. "Like I said, this is about restoring dignity."

Olinski started offering the mobile shower last July and said the demand for Streetside Showers has grown. Homelessness is a problem across North Texas, and Olinski said a shower can help homeless adults keep clean.

"Clean feet are a major deal among the homeless population," he said. "That's why we give socks. Hand a homeless person a new pair of socks, and it's like handing them $10. They really appreciate it."

Wendy McGhee, the executive director of Our Daily Bread, said the mobile shower is a boon to the soup kitchen.

"We give shower passes, which are passes to local recreation centers where they can shower," McGhee said. "And we pay for those. What makes it hard is that we buy a certain amount and run out. With this, they can get a shower right here. They don't have to worry about getting from here to a [recreation] center."

On Friday, a half-dozen employees from Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center gathered to volunteer. The local hotel will provide 30 bright white towels and fluffy washcloths each week, and then they will launder them.

"One of our company pillars is working with the city," said Embassy Suites human resources coordinator Yuliana Rosales. "Charity is a big part of what we do. It feels so good for us to be able to do something like this."

Embassy Suites also donates shampoo, conditioner and other hygiene items soup kitchen clients can stow in their bags or backpacks.

The mobile shower works just like a recreational vehicle. A tankless water heater warms the water to 104 degrees. A heater and air conditioner keep the bathrooms warm in winter and cool in the summer. Gray water — runoff from the shower — drains into a grassy area near the trailer. Black water — sewage — is stored in a septic tank under the trailer and dumped legally at RV campsites.

Olinski said he uses Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap — an environmentally friendly soap that can be used as body wash and shampoo. When clients emerged from the trailer, a whiff of lavender oil followed them.

"We use the lavender soap because it's a bug repellent and it soothes and calms you," Olinski said.

The only time he can't operate his mobile showers is when the temperature dips below 30 degrees.

"When it gets that cold, the heater is pulling air from the outside, warming it and then blowing it into the stall. And when it gets that cold, it doesn't heat up very much," Olinski said. "Nobody wants to be wet in a shower with cold air blowing on them."

Freezing temperatures can affect the plumbing, too. Olinski said he's committed to being consistent and plans to train additional drivers.

Each site has the same procedure. Clients sign up to shower. When their name is called, they collect a clean plastic bin with a fresh towel, washcloth, two new pairs of socks and new underwear (wrapped in plastic bags because they are handled). They walk in the stall, disrobe and swap the towels and clothes to keep their outfits dry. They can use the sink, toilet and shower for 15 minutes.

When the clients exit the trailer, they can get a hygiene bag and select additional shampoo, lotion, mouthwash and feminine hygiene products from a table behind the trailer.

Then a volunteer steps into the stall to disinfect the bathroom for the next user. With the two stalls, Olinski said 25 people can shower each Friday. When he gets the three-stall trailer, he said 45 people should be able to get cleaned up.

He'll be in Denton at the church from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Friday.

"I want the people to know that I'm going to be there. A little while ago, when it got cold and we had torrential rain and flooding, I still went out to Plano. I had my frog gear on, and boots. Eight people showed up to shower in the rain. I'm going to be there."

Edward, who finally got his turn after a warm lunch, stepped out of the shower about noon.

"Whew!" he said, smiling at a volunteer. "That sure feels good."

How to help

Streetside Showers parks from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Friday at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 300 W. Oak St.

To volunteer at Our Daily Bread or Streetside Shower, visit the Our Daily Bread's volunteer page. The mobile shower needs volunteers each Friday. 

To help Streetside Shower, make a financial donation or contact Our Daily Bread to find out about donating food. You can reach Our Daily Bread by calling 940-566-1308 to get information on donating hygiene products, socks and underwear. 

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

FEATURED PHOTO: The shower trailer sits outside Our Daily Bread on Friday with hygiene and cleaning supplies laid out in front ready for use. A partnership between Our Daily Bread, Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center, Denton Morning Rotary Club and Streetside Showers brought showers to homeless people for the third week in a row at Our Daily Bread in Denton. Homeless people are provided with a fresh towel, toiletries, two pairs of socks, a fresh pair of underwear and a hygiene kit. Jake King/DRC