SF’s Lava Mae Brings Showers, ‘Radical Hospitality’ to Oakland Homeless Encampments 

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The organization sets up at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue and at 6th and Castro streets.
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Lava Mae offers free showers and access to other hygiene tools to Oakland’s houseless population.
Kaylah Anderson puts water in a bottle of cleaning solution as part of the Lava Mae team setting up for the day at 27th and Northgate.
Anderson prepares cleaning supplies for the showers for the day. The sign on the pillar is advertising a free shower session that Lava Mae hosted at Allen Temple Baptist Church’s 41st Annual Health Fair in East Oakland. The company plans to expand to have a regular mobile shower service in East Oakland.
Lava Mae calls what they offer radical hospitality – giving houseless or housing insecure populations an opportunity to go somewhere to not only take care of their hygienic needs, but also pamper themselves.
The drawer has toiletries, like soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and razors, and undergarments, like socks and underwear, inside of it, which Lava Mae offers to people free of charge.
Shawn McKenzie checks the temperature of the water coming from the shower in the accessible stall at Lava Mae’s mobile shower center. That’s one of the several opening tasks that the mobile shower center staff completes each day. Other tasks include restocking cleaning supplies, setting out decorations, cleaning the showers, and connecting a pipe from the trailer that holds the showers to a fire hydrant for water.
Jannie Rutledge (left) gets ready to enter one of the shower stalls while Blair Hippolyte (right) checks her hair in the mirror.
McKenzie pulls an errant thread off a washcloth as he hands it, a towel and a pair of socks to Rutledge. Rutledge is originally from Buffalo, NY and recently moved to Oakland.
Josh Hayes, manager of the mobile shower services, checks in on Hippolyte before she starts her shower. In order to keep track of who’s using the shower, the staff writes the name of the person in the shower and the time they went in on a whiteboard. Each guest gets 20-40 minutes of shower time, depending on how busy the day is or if they have accessibility needs.
Hippolyte (center), who is one of the regulars at the 27th and Northgate location, poses for a photo with McKenzie (left) and Hayes (right). She said that she trusts Hayes so much that she would allow him to dogsit for her. She owns three dogs that she wants Hayes to watch for her while she visits Santa Cruz.
One of Hippolyte’s dogs, Benny, gives Hayes a kiss while visiting the mobile shower center. Dogs are allowed to shower with their owners.
McKenzie cleans out one of the stalls between showers. The staff cleans out the stalls after every shower.
McKenzie cleans one of the toilets between showers.
Hayes cleans out one of the showers in between guests. “I think access to showers and water is a basic human right,” Hayes said.
McKenzie writes the name of one of two friends named Josh who regularly visit the mobile shower center.
McKenzie speaks to Josh Braithwaite, who lives in Oakland. Braithwaite said that he got a haircut because he was getting ready for a job interview at the Tesla plant in Fremont.
The other Josh eats a bowl of soup that was made and delivered by a pair of Oakland residents. Because of the regular location of Lava Mae, Oaklanders seeking to connecting houseless people with resources have an easier time finding them, like the people who donated the soup.
Fred, another regular at Lava Mae who chose not to share his last name, gets ready to take a shower while Hayes folds a towel.
Vernon Pierce (left) and Elvis Robinson (right) chat while waiting for a shower stall to open up.
Robinson gets ready to take a shower.
McKenzie grabs a bar of soap for one of the Lava Mae guests.
A guide for helping houseless populations peeks out from behind a pair of fake plants, nitrile gloves and air freshener.
Anderson pushes water out of one of the stalls after it gets flooded. A filter that helps keep dirt particles and hair out of the pipes was clogged.
A staffer cleans out a filter after it got clogged, flooding one of the shower stalls.
Zia Miranda puts runs her fingers through her hair after showering. “Your skin looks so beautiful,” Hippolyte said to Miranda, to which she responded, “I just took a shower. It feels so good.”
Miranda puts on a fresh pair of socks after showering at Lava Mae.
This Lava Mae location gets regular laundry pick up two times every day that they’re operating.
Hayes gets ready to take a load of laundry to a van down the street that came to pick it up.
Julia, who didn’t want to share her last name, gets ready to take a shower.
Zia (left) and Luis Miranda pose for a photo after showering at Lava Mae. The couple, now engaged, met at Lava Mae’s mobile shower center in 2017. “As soon as she walked out the shower, I knew I had to get to know her,” Luis said.
A staffer pulls down the canopy as they close up shop for the day.
Anderson disconnects the adapter for the water pipe from the fire hydrant as the staff closes up for the day.
McKenzie holds a pipe that is used to dump greywater and waste from the trailer into the sewage system at the end of the day.
Greywater and waste runs from the Lava Mae mobile shower center into the sewage system.
Lava Mae offers free showers and access to other hygiene tools to Oakland’s houseless population.

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