Lava Mae provides showers to homeless population in Berkeley

Lava Mae/Courtesy

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Lava Mae — a nonprofit that has provided complimentary showers to Berkeley’s homeless population since May —  has surpassed its goal to provide 75,000 showers to 30,000 homeless people in California one year early, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

The showers, located at 2nd Street and Cedar Street, operate on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.. The location includes a trailer with three bathroom and shower stalls, one of which is accessible to those with disabilities. Kris Kepler, senior director of programs and impact at Lava Mae, said in an email that the program can serve about 40 individuals each day it is open.

“We envision a world where hygiene is treated as a basic human right, where communities mobilize to provide Radical Hospitality,”  Kepler said in an email.

The company, founded in 2013 by Doniece Sandoval, has a mission to treat homeless people with respect and dignity. Its guiding ideal is “Radical Hospitality,” or the belief that people reciprocate the respect they are given.

The company has locations in San Francisco, the East Bay and Los Angeles. The Berkeley location has been serving people in the community for almost five months.

“They give dignity back to people, and they do it with grace,” said Debra Banta, a regular user of the facilities, to Berkeleyside.

The services provided by Lava Mae cost nothing for the city or those who utilize the showers. Lava Mae plans to continue providing services in the area as long as they feel the community is putting them to use.

The company made the decision to come to Berkeley after it observed the conditions from the surrounding area, according to Kepler.

“We’ve been serving in Oakland for a year and a half, and we increasingly saw a need within Berkeley as well,” Kepler said in an email. “(We) wanted to serve the community.”

According to a previous Daily Californian article, an estimated 1,108 people in Berkeley are homeless, of whom 73 percent are considered “unsheltered.” In the past year, the number of homeless people in Berkeley has increased by 14 percent.

Along with showers, several Lava Mae locations also provide community members with toiletries, clean clothing and mobile hygiene services. These services include haircuts, medical care, legal advice and employment assistance.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko told Berkeleyside that the city has been working to raise awareness of these services through direct, in-person interaction. Though “labor-intensive,” he said it is the most efficient way to raise awareness among the homeless community, as many do not have internet access.

Kepler added that there are a number of things people can do to help homeless individuals in their communities.

“I would say just continue to get educated in your community… host something yourself,” Kepler said in the email. “Don’t be afraid to smile and wave, and look people in the eye when you walk by.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.