The Power of a Shower
by Dameria Hutabarat-Charles, helpNYC Communications Associate
For some in New York City, washing one’s hands is a privilege let alone taking a hot shower. Maintaining personal hygiene is not guaranteed or available at all for many unsheltered individuals. There are over 3,500 New Yorkers experiencing street homelessness* in New York City, and a majority of those do not have regular access to a simple shower.
Shower Power, a non-profit organization, recognized the challenge in accessing hygiene resources for many New Yorkers and is dedicated to addressing this problem. It has forged partnerships with organizations across the City to distribute over 20,000 hygiene kits over the last few years. Last year, Shower Power started to offer shower services as well. Teaming up with the Salvation Army on W 47th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, Shower Power utilizes their beautiful backyard space just a few blocks from Times Square. This site allows Shower Power to safely and conveniently deliver shower services to guests from all over the City. Despite being centrally located in Midtown Manhattan, the atmosphere is tranquil, allowing staff and volunteers the opportunity to build community with one another.
New York City lacks a sufficient number of public bathrooms, and many private businesses will not permit access to their bathrooms. Shower Power’s Times Square site includes a large private area which gives the team the flexibility to control the flow of people arriving throughout the morning and early afternoon. Each guest gets a designated seat with their own bin in which to store their belongings. Each bin is labeled with the guest’s name to make sure no items are mistakenly taken or misplaced. The shower trailer that the team designed has four fully private stalls, a changing area, and a door that locks. Each shower has full temperature control and does not have automatic shut-off timers. This allows guests to have the shower experience that makes them most comfortable while allowing them to have a bit of control. A separate restroom is also available.
“Our shower experience is multi-faceted and set up to support good hygiene practices that go beyond just a shower,” Crystal Adams, Board President of Shower Power mentioned. As guests enter the operational area and sign in, the staff will offer them the ability to wash their hands and put on clean masks. “It may seem small, but access to a handwashing facility is limited for unsheltered individuals, especially during the ongoing pandemic,” Crystal added. After signing in and washing hands, the guests are free to utilize the dedicated restroom facility.
The guests may also avail themselves of the designated station for shaving or brushing teeth. Once seated in the designated area, any personal belongings the guests may have, are stored in a recently sanitized bin for safekeeping. Afterward, staff or volunteers will ask what products the guests need for their showers, in addition to the base offerings of a body towel, washcloth, socks, shampoo, and soap. There are additional personal care products included as well, such as conditioner, lotion, baby oil/powder, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, sunscreen, new underwear, and t-shirts, shaving cream and razors, and combs. After showering and getting dressed, personal hand sanitizer, snacks, laundry vouchers, and bottles of water are offered.
In the current climate, providing masks, sanitizers and hand-washing facilities are essential for helping to protect the guests from germs after they have left the site. “We also provide referrals to local health centers and vaccine sites to try to help our community protect itself against COVID-19 and other common colds or flu,” said Julia Chambers, Shower Power’s Co-Founder. She also mentioned that Shower Power tries to be open to all in need. Anyone is welcome to take a shower, as long as they are not noticeably intoxicated or making violent or inappropriate comments. “No documentation is needed, the staff on-site will just ask guests to provide a first name,” Julia mentioned. “We don’t seek to add stress to anyone’s life and hope that guests will feel welcomed and encouraged to care for themselves.”
On average, Shower Power provides about fifty showers per day. The staff is very flexible and rarely has to turn anyone away. About 20% of the guests are women and, based on a very rough estimate, a third of the guests are over 60-years old. One of the major benefits of showering is helping to prevent infections and other conditions that can arise from a lack of consistent hygiene resources and facilities. The staff has witnessed guests with uncomfortable body lice, skin and foot infections, and improperly cared-for wounds, among other easily preventable ailments.
helpNYC’s Co-Founder, J. Rue Mel Parkin (they/them), who was street homeless at one point, applauds Shower Power for their work serving our neighbors. There was a time when Rue did not have access to a proper shower, and they expressed their gratitude and pointed out how attentive and responsive the Shower Power team was in delivering their services. “Shower Power is innovative and aware of the needs of the guests, especially during the pandemic. The organization ensures that the guests maintain proper social distances and sanitize each stall between showers to prevent infection.” Rue added, “If we give people a ten-minute shower, once or twice a week, it can change the world,”
Dameria Hutabarat-Charles worked in marketing for tourism and lifestyle journalism. She has worked for various companies including Singapore Tourism Board and Cosmopolitan Indonesia. She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with two concentrations: Database Marketing and E-Business & New Media from Pace University, New York, and a master’s degree in Communication Science from University of North Sumatra, North Sumatra. She lives in New York City and spends her time volunteering, being part of a Toastmasters Club, and taking certifications in social media, entrepreneurship, and English. She loves dogs, traveling, learning about history and culture, and doing sports. Her life goal is to live an impactful life.
If you or someone you know is in need of a shower or personal hygiene assistance, please visit the helpNYC.info Resource Navigator’s Personal Hygiene section to find more programs like Shower Power in New York City.
* The Department of Homeless Services announced in its 2019 Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE Count) survey conducted on January 29, 2019, that 3,588 individuals were experiencing unsheltered homelessness on the streets of New York that night. On January 26th, 2021, there was a total estimate of 2,376 unsheltered individuals on January 26th, 2021.