Mobile shower truck on Rose Avenue delivers hygiene and comfort to the homeless

Story by Matthew Rodriguez | Photos by Maria Martin

adeleine Dawn-Warner and her bulldog Joy (right) are among the homeless who visit each week for hygiene supplies and a hot shower

At 8:15 a.m. each Thursday, dozens of people who sleep on the streets or in their cars line up in the parking lot at the west end of Rose Avenue to wait their turn for a hot shower. For many, this will be their first hot shower in a week.

“It’s one of the best experiences of my life,” says 67-year-old Madeleine Dawn-Warner, who lives in her car with her bulldog, Joy. “It’s such a relief.”

Dawn-Warner is one of 35 to 50 people each week who visit the mobile shower trailer operated by Playa del Rey-based nonprofit Power of a Shower. There are three private stalls, each with a shower, toilet and sink. Each visitor receives a washcloth, white towel and access to a supply cabinet that contains soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, tampons, lotion and razors.

Playa Vista Insurance Services CEO Rachel Sunday volunteered at the mobile shower trailer when it was operated by San Francisco-based nonprofit Lava Mae, then took over operations earlier this year with the help of husband Aaron Sunday and daughter Hailey Novak. They use the same trailer Lava Mae did, only with the decals stripped off, leaving its original white paint. It’s attached to the same old yellow L.A. Sanitation truck that Lava Mae had — a GMC Sierra with close to 200,000 miles on it. To brighten the mood, Power of a Shower has added a speaker playing upbeat music and a bubble machine near the truck. There’s now also a station for charging cell phones.

The service operates on a first-come, first-served basis, with Power of a Shower volunteers cleaning each shower stall between uses. Sunday takes down the names of those who have been waiting in line, many of them for a few hours already. She writes the names onto a whiteboard on the side of the trailer, next to a digital clock she uses to time showers. Each visitor gets 15 minutes.

“It’s not just a shower. It’s not just a toilet. It’s privacy — something they don’t get out there,” said Sunday. “If I can bring them 15 minutes of peace with some nice music playing and running hot water, it takes them away from the stuff they have to live with every day.”

Late last month, Los Angeles city and county officials partnered to bring a portable overnight mobile toilet and handwashing station to the same beach parking lot at Rose Avenue, giving people who sleep on the streets a sanitary restroom option after nightfall. The PitStop stations operate from 10 p.m.
to 6 a.m. nightly, and are removed at daybreak to allow for beach access.

“Thousands of people living in encampments creates a public health crisis — for people living in those encampments and people living near them. Until we house the unsheltered, the alternative to feces on our sidewalks is restrooms, the alternative to trash is trash receptacles, and the alternative to threats to public health is hygiene centers,” L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin said.

Sunday said she started Power of a Shower to improve the lives of the homeless.

“If I had a bad day and I took a shower, I felt better,” she said. “I don’t know the solution to the homelessness crisis that we’re having, but I know I can help make these people feel better.”

Dawn-Warner said the peace and privacy of a hot shower each week makes her feel like “a new person.” She looked anxious as she waited for her name to be called, but afterwards there’s a big smile on her face.

“It’s almost as if you’re coming into a hotel room. It’s so comfortable when you get in there,” she said. “The people who put this together for us — thank God they’re here.”

Staff writer Gary Walker contributed to this report.