Crystal Powell, who camps on the outskirts of Sonora, said since being able to bathe at the Give Someone a Chance shower bus, she regularly goes to Mother Lode Job Training in hope of finding work and getting her own place.
Being clean makes her feel more comfortable in social situations, she said.
“I have a hard time with people, so that’s one less thing I have to worry about,” she said. “There’s a handful of us who don’t leave our tents, so it also brings us all together.”
There were 30 homeless people including Powell who took showers in the bus on Wednesday while it was parked outside the Discover Life Food Pantry at 4 S. Forest Road in Sonora.
The bus has given more than 300 free showers since launching in July.
Hazel Mitchell, co-founder of Give Someone a Chance, said one of biggest differences she’s noticed in the past five months is a lot more smiles from people who take showers on the bus.
“We want to give them love and let them know we care,” she said. “They may be forgotten by a lot of people, but not us.”
Most of the people on Wednesday were much more talkative and cheerful than when the bus initially started giving showers.
Some were laughing and joking with each other while picking out clothes from the mobile unit of Nancy’s Hope, a Columbia thrift store that accompanies the bus at all of its stops to give people a fresh pair of clean clothes after they shower.
Mitchell said she’s already seen some success stories.
Two men have gotten full-time jobs at local businesses and a 24-year-old is on path to earn a high school diploma in February as opposed to a GED, Mitchell said. She also knows of several others who have been going on job interviews.
“We wouldn’t mind if people came to do job interviews (at the shower bus),” she said. “Come pick somebody out and get to know them, because they’re dying to work.”
Mitchell said some might not be able to hold down a full-time job, but there are many who can help with tasks like yard work.
Mitchell also invited members of the community to visit the shower bus on the days it’s running just to talk and build relationships with some of the people who are homeless.
Gaila Quimby, 46, said most of the time she gets bad looks and inappropriate comments directed at her when she goes into town.
“Just stop and talk to us,” she said. “Just because we’re homeless doesn’t mean we chose to be here ... There are a lot of us out here who want a hand up.”
Quimby said she came from Amador County a year ago to take classes at Columbia College in hope of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor, but things didn’t work out and she doesn’t have a family to fall back on.
Quimby said her tent was the one featured on the front page of The Union Democrat on Dec. 12 for a story about the accumulating garbage along Woods Creek from a homeless encampment.
A tree smashed through the tent during a storm on the day before Thanksgiving while Quimby and others were inside and nearly killed them, she said.
“Most of that mess is mine because a tree fell on my house,” she said.
Cleaning up the mess and hauling trash is not so easy for people like Quimby, who uses a walker to get around because of a bad sciatic nerve that has led to atrophy in her legs after spending most of her life working on her feet in mini-marts.
Quimby said the trash problem is getting worse because of new people who are coming to the area to get away from gangs and crime in the valley.
Quimby said she would much rather be at a place like a shelter or designated camp area with running water, bathrooms, and place to more easily dispose of her trash without having to find a way to haul it to the dump that’s miles away from where she’s living.
“Of course I would be there,” she said.
Michael Rogers, 56, is also someone who has benefited from the shower bus. He has been homeless and also living on the outskirts of Sonora since his mother died in November 2016 and the trailer they were sharing burned down a month later.
Rogers said he’s been going to the bus for showers every Wednesday at the location outside the food pantry in Sonora. Before, he said, he cleaned himself with flushable wipes.
Rogers said he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, but Mitchell helped him find a primary care doctor that has given him medication.
“I showed up here one day and could hardly breathe,” he said.
Linda and Lonnie Johnstone, who help operate the bus for GSAC until the organization can hire someone next year, say they too have seen a change in people over the past several months.
Linda Johnstone said they typically get about 20 people taking showers every Wednesday in Sonora; fewer at the other locations in Jamestown and Tuolumne because she believes people are more spread out.
“It’s nice to be able to provide an essential, basic need,” she said. “We see people who are trying to get work, and it’s nice for them to get a shower and clean clothes to go to an interview.”
Lonnie Johnstone said they’re hoping the showers will be just a small part of addressing the overall homeless situation, which will require a community-wide effort.
”We need to get the county, city and rest of the community behind it to come up with a master plan,” he said.
The bus will be on hiatus next week due to the holidays, but will return to the parking lot of the Discover Life Food Pantry at 4 S. Forest Road from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 2.
While they aren’t going to the Jamestown and Tuolumne locations during winter, they will be taking the bus to the David Lambert Community Drop-In Center at 347 W. Jackson St. in Sonora every Thursday starting Jan. 3.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.