Mobile showers ministry aims to restore dignity




MIAMI—Methodist churches in dense urban areas, such as downtown Miami and smaller communities are starting shower ministries to fill a deep void in their cities and towns.

Chris Bentley, CEO of a nonprofit called Live Fresh, developed an idea for mobile showers after witnessing the plight of homeless in New York City where he was attending graduate school.

In 2015, about the time Pope Francis was launching a shower and shave program for the homeless in Rome, Chris Bentley, now CEO of a nonprofit called Live Fresh, was frequenting coffee shops while attending a graduate program in New York City. He observed a lot of homeless people out on its streets and came to realize none had a place to get clean and feel confident.

So Bentley and longtime friend Carlos Miller headed home to Palm Beach County with an idea for mobile showers, and the concept began to spread.

First United Methodist Church in Miami saw what Bentley’s Live Fresh program was offering—six shower units on a trailer, with toilet facilities and mirrors—and loved it, in part because it could be pulled with a truck.

“We are in downtown Miami and are redeveloping our property and will be situated in a high-rise,” said Rev. Audrey Warren, senior pastor at First Miami. “We can no longer host our homeless ministry at church, so we thought why not go mobile?”

Urban churches like those in downtown Miami are also finding it more challenging to serve homeless populations because the inner cities are changing.

“With so much new development downtown, the homeless began to move further west and north,” Warren said.

The Miami church is in the testing phase of its own program to provide mobile showers, and its volunteers are said to be “anxious to get going.”

“We put together a group of people that meets three mornings a week.

“We work with St. Philips Episcopal Church. They feed out of our property two mornings a week, and we help prepare and distribute the food. We feed on Sunday mornings,” Warren said.

“We have put together a task force from our church, and theirs and other community members to focus on launching the showers” on the same day meals are served.

“We are hoping to partner with other Methodist churches in the area,” she said.

“We work with the chronic and continuously homeless,” Warren said of her church. “On a daily basis, we serve about 140 people. This is something we can do.”

Among those the homeless ministry at First Miami helps are veterans who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some are drug-addicted.

“We are the bridge between those who are most vulnerable and those who are most privileged,” Warren said.

God’s Bathhouse

Further up the East Coast in New Smyrna Beach, the homeless are benefiting from an idea one man had to convert a plumber’s truck to a mobile shower unit.

First United Methodist of New Smyrna Beach, along with several other local churches, have hitched up with God’s Bathhouse of Volusia County to provide showers for the homeless, along with hot food and clean clothes.

“It’s truly a group effort, a community effort,” said Donna Hinkle, a member of the church who coordinates the ministry.

Elgia Glass—who, with help from friends, rebuilt a 1980 Chevrolet P-30 step van purchased (later donated) from a retired plumber—pulls up to the New Smyrna Beach church each Monday with what is now a two-shower truck.

Glass, who recently retired as custodian at Coronado Community UMC, survived cancer radiation therapy in 2014. He reportedly wanted to “pass on his good fortune.”

“We have people from Habitat for Humanity and area hotels that donate towels and wash cloths,” Hinkle said.

“We have Humana there, job search people there, Halifax Urban Ministries…and they give photo IDs. We help with food stamps and housing, and we have a clothing room.”

Everyone gets a hot meal.

“There is a desperate need,” Hinkle said. “There is nowhere that our homeless or indigent people can go take a shower and get clean undergarments and get soap and shampoo free of charge. Some people are not in favor of it, but we have to help.”

The Live Fresh mobile unit houses six showers with toilet facilities and mirrors. After starting in Palm Beach County, the nonprofit more recently partnered with Hope South Florida to serve more than 70 churches in the greater Ft. Lauderdale area, as well.

Giving them ‘a place to be’

Hope South Florida—a nonprofit Christian organization partnering with Live Fresh and more than 70 churches in greater Ft. Lauderdale—helps provide hot meals on days the mobile shower truck visits churches. They also offer toiletry bags, towels and fresh clothing.    

The nonprofit’s Director of Shared Meals, Pery Canan, said his group takes prayer requests from the homeless they serve. That is how he learned of the need for showers.

“There are just not many places available for the homeless to get cleaned up,” he said. “Our hope was to take these showers to the various meal sites that we have. We’ve been doing that since about March.”

The First United Methodist Church of Boca Raton has been offering showers and meals for about four years inside its gathering area, which also has a gym and showers.

“It gives them a safe space that is air-conditioned where no one is going to chase them off,” said Associate Pastor Tom Tift. “We always have a table with clothing and everyone gets a meal.

“In the larger sense, it gives them a chance to know us, and us a chance to know them. Trust might develop that can lead to offering them more help.

“We put a very low bar at the door,” Tift said. “They are as much God’s children as we are, and it is our desire for everyone to be in a better place.”

Tift’s church serves between 30 and 50 each Sunday.

“So much of that community is wounded,” he said. “The first thing you’ve got to do is give them a place to be.”

Bentley said Live Fresh created a turnkey operation that churches can use to set up a shower ministry.

“Within the first month, we had inquiries from organizations around the country wanting to duplicate our program,” Bentley said. “We stayed in contact with a retired man from a Fortune 100 company, Nestle. He has a passion for the homeless and wanted to work with us and help us to roll out affiliate programs, like a franchise, but nonprofit.”

Eventually, Bentley said, once South Florida is fully established, he’d like to find churches throughout Florida and the country interested in starting a similar program.

--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.


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