LavaMaeX, a nonprofit based in California, has offered to help the Maine People’s Housing Coalition set up a mobile shower unit, like this one, for the homeless in Portland. Courtesy / LavaMaeX

PORTLAND — For the last four months, the public has been advised that proper hygiene is one way to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but for the homeless community that is easier said than done.

The Maine People’s Housing Coalition has launched an $80,000 fundraising campaign to purchase a mobile shower facility and laundry room for the homeless. As of Monday afternoon, more than $25,000 had been raised from 635 donors.

“We are really grateful for our community support,” said Jess Falero, a community organizer for the coalition. “We couldn’t do this if we didn’t have that. It is just really great to see the community rallying together for this.”

Falero said between the pandemic and the closure of the Preble Street Resource Center, the need for a mobile shower unit has never been greater. The Resource Center, which is being converted into a 40-bed shelter, had four shower facilities and three bathrooms available to the homeless population, but even then couldn’t keep up with demand, Falero said.

“There were always people waiting to use (the showers and bathrooms). Now it’s even more of a problem,” Falero said.

Mobile shower units can help restore dignity, increase optimism and bring humanization back to those experiencing homelessness and now are vital to health, said Amber Wise of LavaMaeX, a San Franciso-based nonprofit that works to change the way the public serves unhoused individuals through mobile showers, hand-washing stations and hygiene programs.

“Now in this pandemic, hygiene is a matter of life and death. (These people) may be unhoused, but they are our neighbors and still have the right to be clean. Being clean is a basic human right,” she said.

Falero said some homeless people have resorted to bathing in the ocean.

“They feel undignified and have lost their ability to stay clean,” Falero said. “Especially in the times we are in, sanitation is one of the biggest things through this pandemic.”

The group hopes to buy a 30-foot mobile unit with eight shower stalls and a laundry room. While the unit could be moved from place to place, it would also give Maine Peoples Housing Coalition a place to offer community meals and distribute supplies. Falero said the Maine Peoples Housing Coalition is working with Amistad and Milestone Recovery to finalize a site. The coalition is also thinking about getting smaller units to disperse around the community.

“We are still figuring out all the logistics, but we are pretty confident we will be able to meet our goal,” Falero said.

Falero said LavaMaeX has offered to help Maine Peoples Housing Coalition with the venture. Since 2013 LavaMaeX has trained, advised and inspired more than 189 programs in 160 communities in 12 countries to create mobile hygiene services in their area, including Support the Soupman, an organization that donated and set up a mobile shower unit at the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor this month.

“Our goal is to accelerate the process for those who want to bring mobile hygiene to their community with one-on-one mentoring and advising, resources and training if needed,” Wise said.

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