After Greg Woodard was released from jail in August, he found himself homeless again.
Though he found a job in the food service industry, he often would go into work “disheveled” because he didn’t have anywhere to shower or change, or the money to buy clean clothes.
“It’s not like I could go to a laundromat and pay for laundry because I didn’t have a paycheck yet,” he said. When you don’t have a place to shower or sleep, Woodard said, “it’s not very conducive to keep a job.”
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He was soon out of a job as well as out on the street.
But Tuesday, officials unveiled a new mobile unit with three stalls that will allow up to 25 homeless people to take hot showers daily Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at the city’s Homeless Resource Hub, 319 W. Travis St., starting next week.
Add that to another unit at Christian Assistance Ministry, 110 McCollough, which has eight stalls open Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and the city’s homeless people have the opportunity to bathe five days a week downtown.
“These small things aren’t small, they’re huge,” said Rev. Gavin Rogers of Travis Park Church. “I think a lot of people look at it and say, ‘Oh, it’s just a shower,’ but really those showers go a long way to bring dignity and love and peace to so many people’s lives who are in desperate need.”
One of the new trailer’s three stalls has a ramp, making it accessible to those with disabilities. People who come in for a shower receive a towel and hygiene products, including shampoo and soap. The stalls also have a vanity with a sink so people can brush their teeth or shave.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño started prioritizing homelessness after spending the night at Haven for Hope’s courtyard in early 2015. Encouraged by Rogers, Treviño wanted to experience what San Antonio’s unsheltered go through for a night.
It was an eye-opening experience.
Among the things Treviño found lacking were shower facilities that were more accessible to a wider range of homeless people, so he worked with Rogers to bring the mobile shower units to the city.
“It’s not a very attractive thing to talk about often, but it’s one of the most needed things in San Antonio,” Rogers said.
Treviño and Rogers pushed council members to pitch in from their individual district budgets to pay for the trailer, which cost about $50,000.
The city’s Department of Human Services started a pilot program in January 2019, placing the eight shower stalls at Christian Assistance Ministry’s downtown facility, 110 McCollough. Those temporary stalls provided around 6,000 showers for 954 homeless clients during the pilot period, according to Morjoriee White, who’s in charge of the city’s services for the homeless in the department.
Those who received showers would tell staff and volunteers that they could stay employed because they were clean, White said.
Woodard has been homeless off and on since he was 21, attributing post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse among the reasons.
Since becoming homeless in August, Woodard has used the showers at CAM twice. He said having the showers available more often would help the homeless be better able to keep a job.
While it may appear the homeless are concentrated in downtown San Antonio, the reality is they live throughout the city, and Treviño hopes to see a mobile shower trailer in every council district.
“One of the best things you can create is a sense of trust with a lot of people who currently don’t feel that,” Treviño said. “This shower trailer is a way to provide hygiene services, but at the same time it’s a way to connect people to show them that the city cares and might connect them to other service offerings and get them the support that they need.”
White said it’s the goal of city officials and advocates to reduce the ranks of the unsheltered.
“That’s our goal,” White said. “To ensure that homelessness is rare, that it’s brief if it’s experienced, and that it’s nonrecurring.”