City Life

Can a Shower Change a Life?

Shower to Empower is improving access to self-care for homeless citizens

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After living in her Tercel for the past four months, 24-year-old Barbara finally had a job interview scheduled for a Monday afternoon. Homeless and with limited options, she hadn’t had a shower in three days, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to present herself well to a potential employer. Then she heard about Shower to Empower.

Launched in April this mobile unit offers complimentary showers and haircuts, along with case management and medical navigation services. Housed in a customized 20-foot-by-8.3-foot trailer and towed by a pickup truck, the unit will travel throughout Providence providing services for the homeless population; it currently operates from 9–11am Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The trailer includes two showers, heated floors, a medical examination room, and multi-use space for services such as haircuts and case management. Shower to Empower is a collaborative effort between the House of Hope Community Development Corporation (CDC), Team Williams LLC, and the City of Providence.

Various barbers and hairdressers have donated their time and services. In fact, House of Hope’s Executive Director Laura Jaworski says that many clients have come in specifically for the haircuts: “After all, haircuts are expensive, and while having access to a haircut and a shave is a luxury, it is a huge part of self-care that we sometimes
take for granted.”

With an estimated 1,180 homeless individuals in Rhode Island, the mobile unit is a unique way to meet people where they are and ensure that they can access personal hygiene, case management, and health care services. House of Hope caseworkers offer on-the-spot referrals to many service providers; they may also schedule follow-up meetings to assist clients in applying for housing, employment, and social security benefits, for example. 

In its first six days of operation, Shower to Empower served 24 clients. Jaworski says, “One of the challenges of this work is that not everybody is ready to engage in case management right away. What we’ve found is that some folks are already starting to come back, and that allows us to build trust and rapport and start to have a conversation about further needs.”

Those inspired to lend a helping hand can donate travel-size toiletries, new socks and underwear, gently used clothing (particularly men’s items), feminine hygiene products, bras, and gift cards or money cards that can be used at a laundromat.

Jaworski also suggests that, if you can’t donate money or items, “you can give of yourself; a ‘hello’ and a smile can make all the difference in someone’s day, especially to someone who is used to being ignored, invisible, or avoided.”