Lava Mae — the unlikely nonprofit that turns old buses into shower stalls to be used by homeless people — said Tuesday that its second bus is rolling along and that it has a new plan to expand throughout California.
California, United States of America (28 September 2015) – Doniece Sandoval, founder of Lava Mae, stood in front of Bus No. 2, which will be parked every Tuesday on Fulton Street next to the Main Library. Wrapped in a big ribbon made of toilet paper for politicos to cut, the bus has two shower stalls complete with sinks and toilets as well as towels, soap and other toiletries.
Within several weeks, the bus should also be available to homeless people on Wednesdays in the Castro and on Saturdays on Baker Street near the Department of Motor Vehicles. Other days may be added in the Tenderloin and South of Market.
Sandoval, a former public relations executive who lives in the Western Addition, had the idea for Lava Mae after seeing a filthy homeless woman crying and saying she would never be clean. The first bus rolled out in the summer of 2014, shortly before a public outcry about the city’s worsening homeless problem and its incredibly dirty streets.
“There isn’t a person in this city — whether a resident or tourist — who isn’t aware of this crisis,” said Sandoval, who added she regularly gets donations from tourists who’ve been alarmed on their visits. “They say how appalled they are and how the city is failing its people.”
Lava Mae’s simple solution of providing homeless people with showers and toilets has captured the attention of people around the world, many of whom have asked Sandoval to help them create a similar program.
To deal with the huge interest, Sandoval is working with the International Centre for Social Franchising, which is based in London but also has an office in San Francisco. It seeks to help organisations with a social benefit replicate their work in other places around the world.
Sandoval has decided to focus on serving 30,000 homeless people around California by 2020 — and recently met with state Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles to discuss a Lava Mae-type program there.
City Librarian Luis Herrera said Lava Mae is a great addition to the Main Library, which sees up to 3,000 visitors every day — many of them homeless and seeking bathrooms, sinks or just a place to rest. He said the library is teaming with the Asian Art Museum to come up with ways to improve the fairly derelict stretch of Fulton Street between the two institutions — and the bus is just the first step.
Despite all the praise, getting Lava Mae up and running has been much harder than expected, Sandoval said. The first bus is being taken out of the rotation for a few weeks so some electrical glitches can be fixed.
Finding licensed bus drivers adept at working with homeless people and willing to do it for $16 an hour has also been a huge problem, especially with all the competition from corporate shuttle buses. Sandoval said the bus driver shortage has prompted her to plan for the third Lava Mae vehicle to be a pickup truck pulling a shower stall on wheels. That should be running early next year.