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These mobile showers are giving homeless people a clean start

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A fleet of mobile showers are trying to give homeless people a clean start.

"When I met Lava Mae, it was perfect," said Visionary, a woman who's been homeless for two years now. "[I knew] I could relax myself. You know what I'm saying. I wouldn't have to worry about it. I knew I could come here and get that personal [care], like walking into my own door."

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Lava Mae was started four years ago in San Francisco and recently expanded to Los Angeles, where they operate Monday through Friday and give free showers to about 35 homeless people a day.

"Our founder, Donnie Sandoval, thought that if you can put tacos on wheels, you can put showers on wheels," said Sanjay Gupta, the mobile services manager for Lava Mae in L.A.

"[It's like] walking into my own door."
Visionary, homeless woman

Without Lava Mae, some homeless people say they have to go days without showering.

"St. Francis offers showers, but whenever they're broke, we were just out of luck here."

For some, it's about more than just a free shower.

"They play some awesome music," says Alphonso, who's been coming to the showers for six months now. "They pay attention to what culture you're from. So I get a lot of R&B when I go in there."

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"One time, I went in, and I don't know who was in there before me, but it was like pure Spanish Latin music, and I was like, 'Ok, I get what's going on here,'" said Alphonso.

"People experiencing homelessness are so used to being in line, being a number in a system"
Sanjay Gupta, Lava Mae

Lava Mae also gives hygiene packs to those who need them. But what guests seem to enjoy the most is the 20 minutes they get to shower. Before Lava Mae, Visionary says she was going to shelters to shower.

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"I didn't like them," said Visionary. "One, they don't give you enough time, maybe five to 10 minutes. And in five minutes, you cannot shower. Because you have to get undressed and do all these other things. And there you are rushing."

L.A. has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, with 38,000 homeless people, according to city data.

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"People experiencing homelessness are so used to being in line, being a number in a system, when we treat people with dignity and respect" says Sanjay Gupta. "We call them by their name. We call them our guest. We really uplift people in their day, and that has a ripple effect throughout their day."

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Other cities, like New York, have similar shower programs. Live Lava Mae, they're all privately funded.

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"We've had over 1,000 requests for these types of services across the world, so Lava Mae has decided to make an open-source toolkit," said Gupta.

Lava Mae says it has helped more than 10,000 people to at least 35,000 showers in L.A. and San Francisco.

"They have a compassion and a love for people, which is what you have to have," says Visionary.

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See more related stories on Circa:
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