The City of San Antonio’s brand new mobile shower trailer, LavarSA, will start operations downtown next week and bring access to a hot shower and hygiene supplies to the homeless community two days a week, officials said Tuesday.

Paired with the mobile shower unit rented by the City at nearby Christian Assistance Ministry, that access will grow to five days per week. LavarSA will be moved to locations across the city as needed but will likely spend most of its time near downtown where the need is higher.

“These are some of the most basic human needs,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who led the nearly two-year process to purchase the mobile unit. He was inspired by a night spent at an outdoor homeless shelter with Gavin Rogers, a homeless advocate and associate pastor at Travis Park Church, about six years ago.

“I remember I couldn’t find a place to go to the bathroom, I had no place to shower, and the next day I had to go to Council session,” Treviño said. In 2016, he lobbied the City to purchase and install a free, 24-hour bathroom downtown.

Bathrooms and showers aren’t the most attractive or interesting facilities, Rogers said, “but they’re vital and bring such dignity and respect to our street friends and that’s the most important thing I see in this. … It’s not small, it’s huge.”

CoSA Department of Human Services and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) unveil a mobile shower trailer called LavarSA to ensure those experiencing homelessness can access a shower. Photos taken on November 24, 2020.
Travis Park Church associate pastor Gavin Rogers (left) and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The new nearly $60,000 trailer features three private shower stalls and will be staffed by the City’s Human Services Department, who will offer hygiene kits and connections to other homeless services and nonprofits. For now, it’s located in the parking lot of the former San Fernando Gym at 319 W. Travis St., one of two homeless resource hubs the City operates as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

By providing people with showers, the staff can start building relationships and trust with the homeless community that can be leveraged into getting them the help they need, Treviño said.

“Some people need that bridge,” he said.

One shower could mean the difference between being employed and unemployed, said Morjoriee White, the City’s homeless administrator. “This is just another example of how we’re bringing resources to our clients.”

In July 2019, the City funded a pilot program at Christian Assistance Ministry that was very successful, White said. “We’ve given about 6,000 showers, which equated to about 954 homeless clients. That’s just an example of how much of a need there is.”

The new trailer can also be used for short-term emergencies such as mass power outages, hurricanes, and other disasters, Treviño noted.

After he first proposed the mobile shower in late 2018, it received mixed support from his Council colleagues. The proposal included taking money from each Council District’s discretionary budget.

More than half of the trailer was purchased with such funds. Council members Clayton Perry (D10), Rebecca Viagran (D3), and Shirley Gonzales (D5) declined to help pay for the trailer. The remaining half of the cost was covered by the Human Services Department’s 2020 budget.

“The hope is that we get many more of these,” Treviño said. “I made a promise to Council members. … We want to demonstrate that it can go to areas to provide that [resource] connection. Homelessness is not just a downtown issue, it’s a citywide issue.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org