A BCFS mobile shower unit was on loan to the city of McAllen, TX for migrant relief efforts.
A mobile shower unit was on loan to the city of McAllen for migrant relief efforts. Credit: Courtesy / Roberto Treviño

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) has one major ask for Christmas this year: a mobile shower truck and trailer costing about $75,000 to serve the homeless population citywide.

Last week, he sent a letter to each City Council member and the mayor asking them to contribute $7,000 each to the cost of the mobile shower unit from their City Council Project Fund (CCPF) – a discretionary fund of about $50,000 that can be used for projects to benefit their district. While some members seem to be on board with the idea, others said they will need some convincing and a clearer plan for maintenance and operations of the proposed eight-shower trailer.

City leaders know that homelessness is a year-round, citywide problem, so it would behoove them to use funding for “something that we recognize as a real need in the community,” Treviño told the Rivard Report on Tuesday. “It will be utilized by the most vulnerable populations – to simply give them a warm shower.”

Treviño envisions the truck being used every day of the year, he said, and spending more than one month in each district. “I don’t want to store it. It should be used,” he said.

City staff declined to comment for this story because Treviño’s proposal is in the early stages.

The City would have to follow its standard procurement process to select the right unit for San Antonio’s purposes, Treviño said. That could take a few months, and a maintenance and operations plan would need to be developed and funded.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1)
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “I don’t want to wait for a mid-year [budget] review …. We want to get [the truck] here and then we can talk about how we utilize that resource. I’m all ears.”

Treviño had requested funding for the mobile unit in this year’s annual budget, he said, but other projects were prioritized.

His request comes just weeks after Council members agreed to start looking into viable strategies and funding to tackle homelessness after rejecting a proposal floated by Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) to use a portion of the revenues from a new tourism fee to support Haven for Hope.

“[The showers] would go a long way toward our ability to build trust with a population that isn’t always ready to accept long-term support,” Saldaña said. “Any touch points create an opportunity to get these folks on a positive track.”

Ron Brown, Haven for Hope’s director of outreach, agreed that the showers would be “a step toward gaining trust with our homeless community. … [It would show that] they’re not invisible and there are people who do care about their health and well-being.”

Haven, a one-stop center for shelter and support services on the near West Side, provides showers, meals, and other services on-site with dozens of partner organizations that are free to anyone and don’t require being accepted as a resident of the campus.

Taking advantage of a shower, a shave, and a meal might help people understand what Haven and its staff are all about, Brown said. “A lot of them haven’t experienced the program, just heard rumors … nine times out of 10 they’ll say they want to give the [residential] program a shot.”

Asked if Haven would partner with the City to operate the mobile shower, Brown said residents or other formerly homeless volunteers might sign up to help.

“We always extend that invitation out to the guests that are staying at Haven, and they are always elated to give back and to help,” he said.

Since spending the night several years ago in Haven’s Courtyard – a secured outdoor area that provides some medical attention, communal showers, and sleeping mats – Treviño said he’s been looking for ways to improve homeless people’s lives. This summer, he spent time in his hometown, McAllen, and saw the benefits a mobile shower unit brought to the hundreds of migrants that came through the Catholic Charities Respite Center. It was deployed to McAllen by Baptist Children Family Services.

“We have an emergency operations center [in San Antonio], but we don’t have these kinds of resources,” Treviño said. “We could provide disaster relief and homeless help 365 days a year.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg this week said he was still considering Treviño’s request and declined to comment. He noted that the City will soon develop a strategic plan to address homelessness.

Some Council members shared Treviño’s enthusiasm for the idea.

“Our homeless brothers and sisters are worthy of dignity and respect,” Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said. “Nothing is less dignified than not having the ability to clean or groom oneself. Hygiene is important for purposes of seeking employment. It also helps prevent health problems. I’m all for this initiative and applaud Councilman Treviño for his innovative idea. I know it will be a success.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said she is willing to contribute to the shower unit.

“I think [this is] one way to get it funded very quickly,” she said. “[CCPF] was designed with other types of function in mind, but we do have the flexibility to do this. Ideally you’d want to have all your [operations] strategy laid out … but I don’t think that’s insurmountable.”

Typically, she added, CCPF is used for smaller projects in amounts less than $5,000.

Other Council members said they needed a firmer funding and staffing plan before committing $7,000 to the proposed project. Logistics and maintenance considerations could include cleaning supplies, towels, staff, fuel, vehicle maintenance, security, a signup system, coordination with partners, and more.

“It’s a pretty big chunk of money out of my budget,” Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said. “I also didn’t see who is going to take care of it, take it around, what the maintenance costs or [annual] costs would be on it. I’d have to have way more info on it prior to supporting it.”

The shower unit is a “life changer” for the homeless population, said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who recently visited homeless encampments in his district with Haven’s outreach team to offer people winter coats and connect them to services.

“[I] need to examine the CCPF side, but the shower is a worthy project,” Brockhouse said.

Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2), who recently resigned from the Eastside district’s seat, agreed. “I don’t know enough about it,” Shaw said. “We talked about it briefly and it sounds like a great idea … but we have to properly vet it and speak with the community.”

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she would not be contributing to the shower unit.

“I already have Haven for Hope in my district,” she said. “Showers are available there as well as three hot meals a day and many resources.”

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Iris Dimmick

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