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Clean machine! Slope homeless shelter to get mobile showers

Clean and green: These new solar-powered mobile showers could be parked outside of Chips by next spring.
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Talk about a hot shower!

A Park Slope soup kitchen will provide a cleaning service to the homeless next year now that locals have voted to use tax dollars to pay for a mobile shower stations, where those needing a good scrub can get washed up before they fill their bellies — a win-win according to backers of the plan.

“It will be really cool to be able to provide this to our soup kitchen guests and give them a little bit of dignity they might lack after walking around the city not having showered for awhile,” said Andi Hinnenkamp, who is the executive assistant for Chips, which came up with the idea for the showers. “It’s a huge relief knowing we’ll get funding for it.”

Residents living in Park Slope, Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, and Carroll Gardens allotted roughly $60,000 through Councilman Brad Lander’s (D–Park Slope) participatory budgeting — which lets locals choose how to spend part of Lander’s budget — for the showers, the pol announced Monday.

A 12-seat van will haul a trailer housing two stalls with showers and changing areas that will be parked outside of Chips on Fourth Avenue and Sackett Street during the day. People can wash off with free soap, shampoo, and towels in 15-minute intervals before and after lunch, according to Hinnenkamp.

It will be driven to the nearby St. Patrick Catholic Academy, which will store the showers overnight in its parking lot.

The trailer will contain a storage tank with 250 gallons of clean water and a chamber collecting dirty water that links back to the soup kitchen for disposal. Its lighting, pumps, and water heater are solar powered, and the rest of the power will come from hook-ups to Chips, said Hinnenkamp.

About 150 to 200 people frequent the kitchen for breakfast and lunch each day, but often find themselves with nowhere to bathe.

“We get questions everyday from people asking where they can go take a shower and get some clean clothes — there really aren’t that many options in New York for that kind of thing,” said the Chips leader.

The closest free showers are at social services organization Turning Point in Sunset Park, but it doesn’t have the capacity to take everyone, said Hinnenkamp.

There are currently 270 people living in shelters in Community Board 6 — which includes Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill — and 16,974 homeless people across Brooklyn, according to Department of Homeless Services’ data.

And one Park Sloper cast her ballot for the showers because she wanted her fellow Kings Countians to have the chance to feel fresh and sparkling, too, she said.

“One of the reasons I voted for this is it’s covering another human need, being able to walk around in dignity, feeling like you’ve been able to take care of yourself properly. I like the aspect of that,” said Joanna Oltman Smith.

Other winners on the participatory budgeting ballot included hooking up water to Thomas Cuite Park, funding for more street trees, and school upgrades, but the showers came handily in first by receiving the most votes ever for a project in the district, according to Lander, who said the victory shows the size of locals’ hearts.

“You can think about participatory budgeting, some of the projects are about getting something for your kids’ schools or own neighborhood park but there’s a self interested element to it,” he said. “This shows there’s also an element that brings out our most generous, democratic selves and compassion is a value that is at the core of our community.”

The mobile showers will be New York City’s first, but the idea has already taken off on the west coast where one service has been operating on-the-go stations for more than three years, during which 4,000 homeless people have hopped in. Its head honcho applauded the new Brooklyn showers and reported that there has been a huge demand for them.

“We know the need is just tremendous,” said Doniece Sandoval, who is the head of Lava Mae, which provides free showers in old buses outfitted with stalls to homeless Californians. “It’s a really critical service — you can imagine life on the street is hard enough. If you can’t keep up with your hygiene, you don’t feel like yourself … being able to wash that away is really critical.”

If all goes to plan, the showers will be open by next spring, according to Hinnenkamp.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 4:33 pm, May 10, 2017
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