Dignity on Wheels
A mobile shower trailer for the homeless debuts in Venice on Nov. 25
By Gary Walker
After working in refugee camps all over the world, Jasmin Kozowy knows how important water and sanitation are to displaced and forgotten people.
Those experiences led her to contact Lava Mae, a nonprofit mobile shower service based in San Francisco, in an effort to provide those basic necessities to another displaced population: the homeless in Los Angeles.
Beginning next Friday, a retrofitted trailer operated by Lava Mae will provide free showers for homeless people in Venice on Third Street and Rose Avenue, thanks in large part to the efforts of Kozowy and support from elected officials.
Kozowy discovered Lava Mae on social media and reached out last year to ask them to come to Los Angeles.
“They told me that they had been in discussions with Councilman Mike Bonin and state Sen. Holly Mitchell, and I guess I just joined the gap in putting a little more force to them coming here,” said Kozowy, 28, a Canadian citizen who has been in Los Angeles for six years.
Lava Mae named Kozowy its Los Angeles branch director in August.
The group’s blue-and-white Venice trailer is retrofitted with three bathing compartments, each with a shower, sink and toilet. The trailer will get its water from a fire hydrant on Third Street and operate from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Friday.
Lava Mae will provide its homeless clients with hygiene kits that include soap and other toiletries, and the nonprofit Project Narnia will provide free clothing.
Bonin, who represents L.A. Westside neighborhoods on the council, said he found out about Lava Mae two years ago after a group of constituents asked him to explore the idea of bringing the mobile shower service to Venice.
“We thought about trying to create something from scratch here, and we also contacted Lava Mae. I’m delighted that they decided to come because they know how to do this,” Bonin said. “Hygiene is a human right, and it gives people dignity and gives people a much better opportunity to look for a job or an apartment when they’re clean and presentable.”
Kozowy said she sees similarities between the refugee camps she visited in the Middle East and American neighborhoods with large homeless populations.
“I’ve worked in refugee camps for a large part of my life. You go to a refugee camp in Afghanistan or to an encampment on Skid Row or in Venice, and there are the same needs — and in some cases some of the same conditions,” she said.
Kozowy recalled a 20-year-old woman on Skid Row who hadn’t showered for more than a month until she learned that Lava Mae offered free showers.
“I was able to coax her into the shower and give her that space to feel comfortable and safe with me. Now she comes to see us every week,” she said.
People congregating along Third Street during a Tuesday morning press preview of Lava Mae’s new Venice trailer seemed to welcome the addition of the mobile showers to their neighborhood.
Joshua Dementer is familiar with Lava Mae. Now a resident of Venice Beach, he lived for a time in San Francisco and noted how spacious and clean the Lava Mae showers were in comparison to others that serve the homeless population.
“Even though there are drop-in centers and places that do provide showers, if you actually go to them they’re really kind of dilapidated and have a lot of mold infestation,” he said. “And there are people who are hindered from going to those places, but this brings the showers to them.”
Bonin and Kozowy hope to expand the program to other Westside neighborhoods next year.
“This is about more than just showers,” she said. “It’s about restoring a person’s dignity, and with dignity comes opportunity.”