With a 10-1 vote on Thursday, City Council approved the purchase of a mobile shower trailer costing nearly $60,000 that will be used to provide showers for homeless individuals and for emergency response.

The trailer has three shower stalls, one of which can be used by wheelchair users or people with mobility issues. The new shower unit is expected to be delivered in mid-April and will be available for use at the Christian Assistance Ministry (CAM), located at 110 McCullough Ave., every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) first suggested the City purchase a mobile shower unit back in December 2018. The City rented an eight-shower trailer from Baptist Child and Family Services to establish a pilot program last year at CAM, and that program “exceeded our expectations,” said Dawn White-Fosdick, executive director of CAM.

“We were willing to say yes to [hosting the shower] even though we had never offered showers [before] and we had some concerns about what it would be like to have that many homeless [people] show up to get a shower,” White-Fosdick said.

But many of their clients were “desperate for a shower,” she said. The program allowed CAM volunteers gain their trust and connect them to other services that can help them get off the street.

“There was a visible difference in [people’s] demeanor and their attitude” after showering, she said.

From July to December 2019, 404 people took 1,407 showers in the rented trailer, according to City records. That trailer will stay in place until the new one arrives.

More than half ($32,375) of the new trailer’s $58,583 price was covered by discretionary project funds from seven Council members and the mayor. The rest was set aside in the City’s Human Services Department’s fiscal year 2020 budget. Council members Clayton Perry (D10), Rebecca Viagran (D3), and Shirley Gonzales (D5) declined to help pay for the trailer.

Monthly costs to operate the shower unit, including the water bill, will be covered by the Human Services Department, Director Melody Woosley said.

Only Perry cast a vote Thursday against purchasing the trailer, citing concerns about operating and maintenance costs and acknowledging he might look like a “meanie.”

Nonprofits should be funding and operating showers as they do in other cities, he said. “I just don’t see the requirement for the City to get another piece of equipment.”

The trailer also can be used as part of the City’s emergency response to natural or manmade disasters that leave communities without homes or running water, Woosley said.

“I hope to look at opportunities to buy more of these and deploy these where the need requires us to deploy them,” Treviño said, noting that cleanliness is a basic human necessity.

Most Council members – including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who cautiously supported the showers last year – praised the purchase.

“If we can install [informational] kiosks downtown for tourists, we can provide showers for the most vulnerable human beings in our city,” said Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8). “Imagine trying to get a job without the access to a shower or a sink in which to brush your teeth in.”

Compared to the City’s nearly $3 billion annual budget, the estimated $600 it will cost to operate the showers is a “tiny” amount to spend on an “act of compassion,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said.

Some local shelters such as Haven for Hope and the Salvation Army offer showers. Travis Park Church is close to reopening its shower program after repair work on its building is complete, and Catholic Charities recently purchased its own mobile shower trailer, Woosley said.

The trailer will be moved to support other events and programming that serve the homeless population across the City, such as the annual American GI Forum veteran outreach events, she said.

They could also be deployed near encampments where homeless individuals congregate and set up tents, she said. Camping on public or private property is illegal in San Antonio, but as City and nonprofit workers engage with homeless people, the shower could be a critical tool in gaining their trust.

“It helps us offer something that they really want and need and hopefully that leads to longer relationships and higher [participation in other services],” Woosley said.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...