Nirenberg Supports Mobile Shower Truck for Homeless but Wants Sustainable Plan

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) speaks with Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) before a council session in January.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) speaks with Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) before a council session in January.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he supports a proposal by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) to have the City Council purchase a shower trailer that would serve San Antonio’s homeless population.

However, Nirenberg would like to put the brakes on Treviño’s desire to fast-track the proposal. Nirenberg said there are details that must be worked out through proper Council procedures and City regulations in order to ensure the long-term viability of the mobile shower unit.

Treviño first proposed the idea and requested funding for the shower trailer during the budgeting process last year, but it was passed over in favor of other priorities. Since then, he has asked his fellow council members to chip in on the purchase by using money from each of their City Council Project Fund (CCPF) accounts.

Treviño originally asked for $7,000 from the discretionary accounts of each district but is now asking for $5,275 because he found a less expensive shower trailer. This week he followed up with an outline of an operational framework for its use, but the proposal lacked specific details related to operation, maintenance, and staffing,

Nirenberg credited Treviño with a creative idea to help the homeless with hygiene and health. He said Council will need to determine what department of city government will be responsible for the trailer, who will operate it, what it will cost in terms of annual operations and maintenance, and how it will be funded beyond the initial purchase. He said Council could discuss all that at a meeting next month when it is already scheduled to discuss homelessness in San Antonio.

“This is a laudable goal, but we have to make sure we have a plan in place to make it feasible and sustainable into the future,” Nirenberg said.

Treviño’s district features the largest number of homeless in the City, according to the 2018 Point-In-Time Count, an annual count of homeless people without shelter done on a single night each January. District 2 and District 5, both of which border District 1 have the next two highest homeless counts in San Antonio.

If Council funds and approves the shower idea, it would be a first-of-its-kind council-owned and -operated program, Treviño said. Nirenberg said that is also something the Council needs to discuss and analyze.

Treviño indicated in a letter to his fellow council members that he believes the shower could be operated full-time through partnerships with organizations that are already working with the homeless in each district, adding the City’s Department of Human Services (DHS) could help identify those groups and organizations.

Treviño would prefer to purchase the shower and get it up and running as soon as possible and figure out the operational details and procedures over time through experience.

“City and Council Aide staffs will be able to make operational adjustments as the unit is activated,” Treviño wrote at the end of his letter. “We will learn about how best to utilize this asset over time as it is actually used in the community.”

Treviño said as of Thursday afternoon he had heard from seven council members who pledged support for the idea.

Council is required to vote on any expenditure of $10,000 or more, but if it purchases the trailer with monies from the CCPF accounts, it would be a simple procedural vote, Treviño said. That would likely happen at either a February or March council meeting if the other details could be worked out.

“The good news is it looks like we have the support we need, and I hope to get more,” Treviño said. “Obviously, I would like the entire council to be supportive. The whole idea of the shower is to help the entire city, and the shower will be shared among all the council districts. That’s what I’m committed to.

“…Bottom line, we are a compassionate city, and this is the gesture of a compassionate council.”

Treviño is up for reelection in May, which is likely one reason for his urgency to get the showers purchased and operating. With six people having filed paperwork to challenge for his seat, winning another term is no sure thing, and it’s possible future councils won’t be as friendly to the idea.

A BCFS mobile shower unit was on loan to the city of McAllen, TX for migrant relief efforts.

Courtesy / Roberto Treviño

The City of McAllen borrowed a mobile shower unit for migrant relief efforts.

Justin Holley is among those running for Treviño’s District 1 seat. Holley said in a recent Facebook post he is against spending public money on a mobile shower trailer and suggested there are better ways to help the homeless in San Antonio.

“There are so many layers to the homelessness challenge, but this kind of money is better spent on mental health care rather than duplication of services already offered in many facilities,” Holley wrote in his post.

Treviño said a young woman, who spent part of her life homeless in San Antonio, recently approached him when she heard about his push for a mobile shower and said during her time on the streets, her biggest challenge was hygiene.

“A lack of hygiene leads to health issues and they can’t afford health care,” Treviño said. “Our residents deserve better than that.”

While Treviño could not point to a similar endeavor Council is responsible for managing, each council member oversees a budget and maintains and operates a field office. Treviño’s field office happens to be in an old fire station, where he said the shower could be parked at times if needed.

The estimated cost of the trailer with three showerheads and ADA accessibility is $58,000, according to research done by the DHS. The trailer also would need to be towed by a pickup truck. DHS estimated the cost of a new pickup at $36,000 and annual operating costs at $63,000 based on providing 36 showers per day.

Treviño said he believes those costs are excessive and that the City doesn’t need to purchase a new pickup to tow the showers. With contributions from the business community and partnerships and volunteers who will help operate the shower, the operating costs could be lower, he said.

The Rev. Gavin Rogers, who works with the homeless at Travis Park United Methodist Church downtown, said a mobile shower unit would make a big difference in the lives of homeless people.

“Everybody thinks there is a catch-all solution,” said Rogers, who co-authored the letter sent to council members this week. “This is just one solution to better the lives for the common good of people. The end game is, ‘Will a shower do good?’ Yes. We start there and then say how do we get it done as a city?

“When people can stay clean, they don’t have foot rot, they don’t get sick, they don’t have nasty infections and have to go to our dermatology clinic. When they’re clean, they’re less likely to go places where they need services.”

After studying the idea and similar efforts by other cities, DHS suggested renting a mobile shower and implementing a pilot program to analyze how often it is used over six months. DHS estimated the cost of the pilot program at $43,000.

After reviewing similar programs in north suburban Dallas/Fort Worth, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego, DHS found such programs are run by nonprofit organizations and not municipalities, though several cities provided funding. It also found the shower programs usually were available three to five days per week and rotated among partner sites, generally churches.

Treviño would like the truck to be used daily, spending at least one month in each City Council district. The showers could also could be used for disaster relief efforts and other emergencies.

Treviño said the City often busts up homeless encampments when they form in different spots around town. He understands why that needs to happen but said the City should be more compassionate in dealing with homelessness.

“If we’re simply kicking people out and not giving them a hand up and an opportunity, then I think we’re only going halfway through the effort,” Treviño said. “We should be providing some of the folks who are in those places to have a hand up, a warm meal, a shower, a haircut, and possibly a connection back to Haven for Hope and other services that can provide a way back into a normal life.”

14 thoughts on “Nirenberg Supports Mobile Shower Truck for Homeless but Wants Sustainable Plan

  1. I realize that Haven for Hope is not the answer for everyone who is homeless but 36 showers a day doesn’t seem seem to be significant to have impact. Also, will other service providers be available for outreach services – the City believes that homelessness should be rare, and for a short time so what else can be done for the person? I would think clean clothes should be available or accessible. Possibility a sack meal ? Meds? Maybe a traveling “Courtyard” model?

  2. Where will this trailer be located? Where will homeless store their belongings while showering? What city employees will be tasked to clean the showers? Who will ensure proper security? Nice idea, but not realistic in my mind. If you want to provide places for homeless to shower, shave, and brush their teeth, a more permanent structure would need to be established to be functional.

    • You go to where the homeless are. Where are these “permanent structures” going to be? Will there be 35 of them scattered around town? Not realistic or sensible. Many homeless do not want to go to a facility, so this is ideal.

  3. Bravo! It seems extensive communication with cities who already have such programs would be vital. Have we visited Dallas/Fort Worth facility? (road trip!) Any and all information gathered would be extremely beneficial and ensure continuity and success to the project.
    I hope most of the downtown churches would be on board for visits. Quite a few non profit groups could easily offer other services.
    Go Roberto!!

  4. Thank you, Councilman Trevino, for this compassionate idea. Another great need is for portable toilets to be placed in spots around the city where the homeless gather. They are supposed to not be a public problem, but where can they go to the bathroom? Their needs are important, and should be considered in view of our being a financially stable city that has the ability to care for the poor. The compassionate thing to do! Thanks also to you, Mayor Nirenberg, for figuring out a way to bring this hygiene help to pass.

  5. Many of the city of san antonio public swimming pools have showers and restrooms.They could be used when swimming pools are closed.Plus they are cooed.

    • THAT is a GREAT idea!!! Using existing separate facilities. Space heaters in winter, more hours to run, one in every district. Brilliant! I love yhe mobile idea too! Great thinking SA!

  6. A shower trailer is not something a city should buy. It’s something they should rent. Operating cost and overhead go way down. Look at companies like royal restrooms

    • Then why did you comment?
      How about not taking up space, or getting a clue and read the article and make an INFORMED decision.

  7. I am a bit confused here, Councilman Pelaez was advocating that citizens do not give homeless money when they stand at a corner, so that the homeless would seek help from the designated places of refuge the city provides. So now we are to help the homeless with a mobile handout? If we have this trailer travel around the city then won’t the problem continue throughout the city? If the trailer stays in a location near Haven for Hope that’s different. But to have a trailer parked in the Walmart parking lot we seem to be encouraging living in the woods and under the bridge lifestyle. I don’t see a well-thought out plan just a shiny new item under the christmas tree

  8. I am as compassionate as the next person concerning the homeless but not working out the logistics and true future costs is irresponsible.
    “Treviño would prefer to purchase the shower and get it up and running as soon as possible and figure out the operational details and procedures over time through experience.”
    So spend taxpayer money(initially close to $100k) without figuring out the details.
    Where have we heard this before?
    Keep this up and SA will be another San Francisco.
    I concur with Albert’s idea to use existing public pool showers and bus them there.

  9. I was not a fan of the expensive public restrooms (The Portland Loos) that were purchased and installed downtown because I felt their impact would be minimal given that there would only be 2, but I do support this concept precisely because it IS mobile and can therefore go TO the population that needs it. I agree that it should be coupled with other services and am confidant that partnerships can be formed with non-profits, churches and others. I applaud the leadership role that the Travis Park United Methodist Church continues to take on issues surrounding deep poverty. I also agree with the comment that renting the equipment or subcontracting the service should be strongly considered…San Antonio is a compassionate city. Providing showers emboldens a sense of dignity. Cleanliness can lead to improved outcomes. It is a small price to pay.

  10. I think this is a colossal waste of taxpayer money. There are permanent structures scattered throughout San Antonio including Travis Park UMC that have restrooms and shower facilities. Why doesn’t the city invest in Churchs’, YMCA’s, and other permanent places to help provide staffing and maintenance year round instead of just driving a truck around the city. We need the City to the keep the restrooms open in the city garage. Provide funding for the permanent structures to operate and expand services such as mental health and housing counselors. Yes the truck meets a basic human need but so much more could be accomplished with allocating our resources to what is already working but running on limited schedules do to staffing.

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