Oroville nonprofit determined to launch mobile hygiene trailer for county’s homeless
When Kevin Thompson reached the checkout line at a big-box retail store in Oroville about a year ago, he was shocked to see the cashier standing before him. Earlier that day, as the janitorial contractor made his rounds at Riverbend Park, he’d seen her clambering out from beneath a bridge on Highway 162.
“I [thought], Wow, here it is: She’s dedicated, she’s working, obviously she’s not on drugs, she’s getting to work—but she’s homeless.”
Thompson, also a well-known local pastor, is spearheading an effort with his management team at the Oroville Southside Community Improvement Association to provide not only a new resource center for homeless folks, but also Butte County’s first mobile hygiene unit, dubbed Haven of Hope on Wheels. It’s moments like the one Thompson recalled, coupled with the increasing number of homeless people in Butte County, that has been the motivation.
Their goal is to purchase a wheelchair-accessible trailer equipped with four showers, toilets, and washer and dryer units, available on a first-come, first-served basis. The plan is to operate no fewer than five days a week for about eight hours a day, with a driver, intake coordinator and potentially a case manager stopping at locations across the county.
A sample schedule on the organization’s website shows Haven of Hope on Wheels starting at a location like the Jesus Center in Chico in the morning and moving to a location like the Community Action Agency in Oroville for the afternoon. They anticipate offering 60 to 84 showers a day, as well as 36 to 72 loads of laundry. Other potential services: haircuts and grooming.
Currently, the management team is working to drum up community support and sponsors. (They’ve reached about $10,000 of their $104,000 goal.) On June 5, Thompson and his team—which also includes Keesha Hills, Allen Young and Gwen Jenkins—will be asking the Oroville City Council for support, and they’ll make a presentation to the Butte County Board of Supervisors on June 12.
The group’s mission is to help homeless individuals feel better about themselves and regain their dignity and self-sufficiency, says Hills, facility manager at the Southside Oroville Community Center. “When you are ostracized for the way that you look, the way that you smell, oftentimes that’s the reason why a lot of them don’t … seek appointments or maybe find housing,” she said.
Thompson added that the team is treating health and safety as the No. 1 priority.
“Many people suffer from certain avoidable diseases or infirmities that could be taken care of if they were able to take showers on a regular basis,” he said. “Hygiene is so important.”
Haven of Hope drew inspiration from a similar program in the Bay Area called Dignity on Wheels, started by longtime homeless service providers Paul and Cheryl Bains. That program has three trailers and services 14 cities within San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
Notably, the mobile units have been the “hook to create the relationships to establish the trust to get them back on the road to self-sufficiency,” Paul Bains told the CN&R by phone. He recalled meeting a woman who thanked him, sharing that after she was able to take a shower through Dignity on Wheels, she made connections to get a job and place of her own.
“I believe that everyone deserves the right to be clean,” he said.
As for the Haven of Hope Resource Center, which will be located at 3031 Myers St., Thompson said they’ll get the keys on June 1, and hope to have it up and running by July. There, staff will offer counseling, case management, life skills courses and job training.
“Our goal is to make sure that everyone that seeks out our services has every opportunity to succeed,” Thompson said.