It’s certainly not traditional to healthcare and it might not seem like healthcare at all, but once a month Saint Joseph Hospital hooks up a trailer with four shower stalls to a water source and provides much-needed showers and other resources for the homeless community in Denver.
In an effort to better meet the needs of the community, Saint Joe’s connected with the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Lakewood, which operates the Living Well shower trailer
. Living Well provides showers at several locations around Denver each week and has been coming to Saint Joe’s once a month since June.
“We host the shower truck at Saint Joseph as a means of acknowledging the intrinsic worth and dignity of folks living on the margins in our neighborhood,” says Chuck Ault, Regional Director of Community Health, who coordinates the showers. “The simple gift of a hot shower along with some food and clean clothes can contribute to that person having a better day.”
Saint Joe’s staff and volunteers, along with our Living Well partners, also provide participants with a breakfast burrito, fruit, clothing and toiletries. Some people come for all of the above while some just come for some breakfast while sitting and talking with friends. So far, the program has been a great success. In June, 60 people came during the three-hour window and 26 took showers. In July, 55 came and 28 took showers. After taking August off, 41 people stopped by in September and 22 took showers.
People who sign up for a shower get 30 minutes in the shower stall. Living Well volunteers clean the stalls after each shower and get it ready for the next person. The trailer has three standard stalls and one wheelchair-accessible stall.
Saint Joe's has tapped into two organizations that they already regularly partner with to help spread the word: Metro Caring, a hunger prevention organization, and Senior Support Services, a day shelter for homeless seniors. Both organizations are just blocks from Saint Joe’s and help the care site reach the exact populations in need.
“It’s beautiful because it makes me feel like I’m back home still,” says Carla Hunt, who came toward the end of the September session and enjoyed a longer shower—the kind she liked to take in her Denver home for many years.
The showers are a simple, yet very effective way to instill dignity in the community surrounding Saint Joe’s. The program also allows volunteers to better get to know those in the homeless community, understand their challenges and appreciate the diversity of their backgrounds and life experiences.
“Those who volunteer to help with the shower truck are struck by how much the experience challenges their own definition of who an individual experiencing homelessness is,” says Ault. “At the end of the day everyone feels like they've made a difference, however temporarily, in the life of another.”