CARLSBAD — In addition to the medicinal benefits associated with proper hygiene, lathering beneath steamy waters with sweet-smelling suds is a luxury for the spirit, one many often take for granted.
For the homeless, cleanliness can be a burden that weighs heavy upon an already burdened soul. Showers are bird baths often taken in filthy, grimy, rest-stop bathroom sinks.
Showers of Blessings, a mobile shower facility, offers the simplicity of cleansing to those who don’t have the proper means to do so.
Every Tuesday, the Ecumenical program offers hot showers, haircuts and beard trims, breakfast and clean clothes — including new underwear and socks –—at Father Raymond Hall in Carlsbad’s St. Patrick Catholic Church.
Spearheaded by Carlsbad’s own angel Chris Durnan, the portable shower service began as an offshoot of Alan Dorsey’s efforts initiated in Encinitas in 2014. The Point Loma resident hauled a shower trailer twice a week to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Encinitas, one that came from the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego.
Impressed and inspired, Durnan recruited resources to do the same for Carlsbad’s homeless. First Durnan met with St. Patrick’s Rev. William Rowland, CJM, affectionately known to his parishioners as Father Bill, who fully supported the idea.
St. Patrick Catholic Church offered to house the trailer (and continues to do so today), while working in partnership with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church San Dieguito, the United Methodist in Encinitas and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Del Mar.
Grassroots funding through churches, rotaries, private donations and a Go-Fund Me page followed suit.
Durnan spread the word to the homeless by distributing flyers in libraries, beach bathrooms, senior citizen centers and restaurants.
As the news spread, so did the community outreach. Stylists from Carlsbad’s Kelly Cardenas Salon pitched in services normally relegated to an A-list, star-studded clientele. Top of the Bagel, Leap Coffee, Al’s Cafe, Señor Grubby’s, Gregorio’s and Lola’s offered food and hot and cold drinks.
Local residents added homemade casseroles and donated clean clothing and toiletries.
Cal State University San Marcos School of Nursing assembled an on-site clinic replete with a nurse practitioner to provide medical care and outside clinical recommendations. Referrals are also made for those needing case workers and interfaith community-center counselors.
Shower day begins at 8 a.m. with a prayer circle, followed by announcements and check-in. Attendees enjoy coffee and breakfast while waiting their turn. Shower stalls are sanitized after each use. A station for clean clothes and fresh underwear precede haircuts, styling and beard trims.
“Showers of Blessings offers the homeless a sense of dignity that extends beyond their constant state of living in survival mode,” said Durnan. “A hot shower provided in a safe space is a boost that everyone appreciates.”
Durnan noted that since its inception, participant numbers have doubled.
“In addition to hosting our regulars, the program’s doubled with newcomers and even more joining every week,” she said. “The age range covers the spectrum with some as young as 20. The reasons behind their homelessness vary. It’s sad. We’re so blessed to be able to help.”
Showers of Blessings serves as one of many pit-stops for the Carlsbad Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT); police personnel devoted to assisting the homeless through “encouraging stability and recovery rather than enforcement.”
“We work to change the present perspective and future outlook of the homeless by restoring their sense of dignity,” said Carlsbad Police Sgt. Alonso Develasco. “Through acceptance and encouragement, we replace the negative with compassion and normalcy to build trusting relationships that work towards long-term solutions. We strive to create relationships of opportunity rather than enforcement.”
Sgt. Develasco underscored HOT’s efforts to connect the homeless with community partnership resources like Showers of Blessings for a “multi-faceted approach to short and long-term responses.”
“We encourage the homeless to openly engage,” he explained. “The HOT division is a compassionate enforcement that offers a compassionate approach.”
The HOT team supervisor also acknowledged the value of Showers of Blessings’ hygiene component for those living on the streets or in the bushes.
“Showers, medical services and clean clothing transform the downtrodden to the respected,” he said. “Cleanliness is humanizing. Cleanliness restores dignity for the struggling while supporting a path to success. And proper hygiene helps to stop the spread of disease.”
Durnan and Sgt. Develasco described homelessness as an affliction that stems from a myriad of unfortunate circumstances. Addiction, mental illness, domestic violence and financial loss are among the many reasons life on the streets becomes an unwelcomed existence.
The power of Showers of Blessings can’t be overstated.
“One man arrived smelling awful,” concluded Durnan. “He walked in slumped over and dejected with long, dirty, straggly greasy hair. We fed him before he showered and took a haircut. He took one look in the mirror and smiled. If we can that for one person, it’s worth it!”
Plans to expand Showers of Blessings to Oceanside and Vista requires community sponsorship and additional volunteers. Future monetary donations are geared to purchasing another mobile shower.
Showers of Blessings serves Carlsbad every Tuesday at Father Raymond Hall from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and every Saturday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church San Dieguito from 9 a.m. to noon.
For more information or the opportunity to serve as a volunteer, email SoBlessingsCarlsbad@gmail.com.
Lucia Viti is a seasoned journalist, photojournalist and published author who covers all regions in feature and news reporting. Sporting a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of West Virginia, she spent 20 years in New York in the fields of Public Relations, Advertising and Medical Communications. Her love for outdoor sports landed her in Carlsbad in 1999 where she segued into news and feature reporting. Her photographs are sold locally in artisan shops throughout the County.