Frederick Otto knows the value of a warm, soothing shower. But he also knows the costs.
On a recent cloudy afternoon, Otto walked quickly back to his small, white Volvo in the parking lot of the Church of Living Water in Yelm. His hair and beard — both long and grey — were wet.
He can’t get too cold, the 73 year old says, because that could mean catching a nasty cold and potentially getting fatally ill. He had just taken a much-needed, free shower at a trailer provided by Lacey-based Build a Bus Home and local nonprofit Love Abounds Here.
“A shower is a very precious thing on this planet,” Otto told the Nisqually Valley News.
He proceeded to unlock his car, place his things in the backseat and get comfortable in the front seat of his cramped vehicle. With the driver’s side window cracked open, Otto, wearing a kempt red flannel, proceeded to start his car to get some heat going.
“I think I’ve got some bad gas,” he said on his third attempt at turning the ignition. The car started and heat blew, but then it began to sputter. He tapped the gas to keep the car going.
Otto said he doesn’t have running water at his residence located near Yelm. Today was as good a day as any to get himself cleaned up.
“It’s a super blessing to the people who need it,” he said.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, Yelm area residents in need of a refreshing shower showed up to a windowless trailer located in the parking lot of the Church of Living Water in Yelm.
It’s a new fixture aiming to serve Yelm’s most vulnerable that will be provided twice a month in the parking lot. The local nonprofits putting this effort together, with help from the church, plan on being back every first and third Thursday of each month.
In its first three hours of service, the trailer provided a shower for eight people, said Lisa Gillotti, founder and executive director of nonprofit Build a Bus Home, which owns and operates the trailer.
Build a Bus began focusing on hygiene services to the homeless and those in need in April 2019 when the organization obtained a shower trailer.
Gillotti said it has been an exciting opportunity to be the first shower bus program in Yelm. The goal, she said, is to bring free hygiene services to the homeless and other individuals in need who live in Thurston County.
“You’re happier when you’re clean and not itchy,” she said. “Being homeless is hard … Finding bathrooms is easy, but finding showers is harder.”
It’s estimated there are approximately 30 individuals in the Yelm and surrounding area living homeless, most of them sleeping in their vehicles, according to the 2020 Thurston County Point in Time Homeless Census. Due to logistical hurdles of a one-day homeless census, though, that number is likely higher.
Nearly all recorded had a previous permanent address within either Thurston, Lewis, Pierce or Mason counties.
The county’s census doesn’t take into account the number of families and individuals locally that are about to slip into homelessness. About 160 students in the Yelm and Rainier areas are believed to be either homeless or doubled up, according to the census.
Providing the services, Build a Bus volunteers say, enhances the quality of life, health and self-esteem of these individuals, reduces demands on public and private services, and improves health, job, income, housing and service outcomes.
“It means alot to me because I was homeless before and you can always use a shower,” said Vern Lacewell, 65, a Build a Bus volunteer and retired Army specialist. “It’s something new and it’s needed.”
With the nearby Nisqually River serving as the county line between Thurston and Pierce counties, Yanah Cook, co-founding member of Yelm-based charitable organization Love Abounds Here, said the goal with the event is to bridge the gap of underserved individuals that live here.
Apart from the Build a Bus tent checking people in for showers, Love Abounds Here had their own tent with volunteers offering free clothes, toiletries, blankets, tarps, hats and face masks.
Cook said they pride themselves on the trust they’ve built with the local homeless population. She and her team of more than 150 individuals have been working tirelessly to get people the things they need to survive and connect them with services.
“There’s absolutely no cost for them to come here and be outfitted with the survival gear they need. That’s hats, blankets, socks,” Cook said. “We feel this is something that’s going to be increasing (with COVID-19) ... So we want to fill that gap and act as a bridge to all those agencies and collaborate.”
Stacy Hamlin, a peer pathfinder with Olympia Bupe Clinic of Capital Recovery Center, was one of those resources in attendance that day.
She has lived experience. After using methamphetamine for roughly 20 years, Hamlin has been sober for six years and is helping to counsel those who are struggling and connect them with whatever treatment they need.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to sit down and help them,” she said. “I have that lived experience … (and) it’s priceless.”
Intake for a free shower at Build a Bus in Yelm is fairly straightforward as guests simply need to fill out a form.
The program is not currently taking guests with a temperature. No cosmetics, toothpaste or bar soap are allowed in the shower area; the program provides guests shower supplies at intake. Guests are allowed 20 minutes total for showering and dressing.
No weapons, alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia are allowed at the site.
The trailer features 17 stalls for showering. Due to social distancing measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is currently only using six.