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Water & Sanitation

Normal Dude Designs Mobile Showers for the Homeless and Gives Humanity Hope That 2016 Isn’t the Worst

Shower To The People

2016 has seen the rise of xenophobic populism, the passing of more beloved musicians and celebrities than we can even count, and the release of Batman vs. Superman.

It’s been a rough year.

However, there’s one dude whose story is sure to put a smile on humanity’s collective face.

His name is Jake Austin, and he’s a pretty young Pastor who has been helping the homeless in St. Louis for years.

It may seem like a familiar story: Pastor helps poor people.

But there’s a twist.

When he began volunteering with the homeless population his efforts were classic man-on-a-mission things like feeding and clothing the poor.

Read More: A Wake-Up Call on Homelessness

He also occasionally passed out toiletries like soap and shampoo until one day when a man thanked him, but said he had nowhere to actually use them.

Austin then saw that “people can get food and clothes, but if they haven’t had a shower in three months, they can’t get a job even flipping burgers.

So Austin, inspired by the food truck craze, shifted his focus to cleaning the poor and began a GoFundMe page to raise the funds needed to buy a truck and turn it into a mobile shower facility.

Within 15 days he had the money, so he bought the truck and a local RV center near St. Louis donated the materials and labor to change the back of it into a shower room that could have two visitors at a time.

He also got an outpouring of local support in the form of shampoo and soap donations.

STTP1.jpgThe STTP Mobile Shower Unit.
Image: Shower to the People

Then the Internet gods smiled upon Austin and his good work, and Shower To The People went viral.

All the classics signs were there. He got a “Now This” video detailing his work, and the word spread like wildfire with over 80 million views over the course of this July.

Austin went and did radio interviews all over the United States, then in Ireland, Canada, and even Chile.

The attention also led to tens of thousands of people praising Shower To The People and requesting that Austin establish a mobile shower unit in their communities.

Taken aback by the response, Austin started a campaign for Shower To The People called “20 by 2020.”

The idea is to get 20 mobile shower trucks in 20 different cities by the year 2020, and one is already under construction in Indianapolis.

Read More: San Francisco's Journalists Join Up for Unprecedented Coverage of Homelessness

Austin has also expanded his idea into a social enterprise by hiring people who have experienced homelessness to help staff the mobile shower units, and starting a program called Raise the Bar.

Raise the Bar trains and then employs people who have experienced homelessness or are financially insecure to make artisanal soaps that are sold to provide funding for Shower To The People.

And the soap that isn’t sold gets used in the mobile shower units.

Finally, Austin runs a referral network that builds strategic partnerships with local homeless service providers so they can effectively connect those in need with relevant services.

While Shower To The People is an admirable, growing program that has gained global attention, Jake Austin has a deeply personal philosophy about why making showers available is a good idea, and it transcends the often wonky sphere of sanitation policy.

When he was asked why hygiene is important, he gave this simple, but beautiful answer:

“Why is hygiene so important? Because good hygiene promotes health, fosters hope, and restores dignity to those who may have lost it.”

So Jake Austin, this normal dude with an extraordinary heart went out on a limb to help those in need, and was justly rewarded with a vast network of support and attention.

I’d say there’s little doubt that Shower To The People will keep growing and continue to bring hygiene to the masses in a genuinely innovative way.

So all in all, Jake Austin’s story is one we can all be proud of in 2016.