Here’s how an LA organization is helping homeless people stay clean – Annenberg Media
Mel Tillekeratne recalls seeing homeless people at West Adams Christ Church smiling in the mirror after taking showers there.
“You see them in front of a mirror doing their hair, they love the way they look,” said Tillekeratne, co-founder and executive director of End Homelessness California, also known as the shower of hope. The organization, which started in 2017, works to provide people experiencing homelessness with access to showers, hygiene products and more.
At its West Adams Church of Christ location, there are white and green portable shower stations that provide homeless people with the resources, privacy and time they need to shower.
Tillekeratne began raising awareness among people experiencing homelessness by helping with Monday night job where volunteers served food on Skid Row five nights a week. In 2017, Tillekeratne began working with community members to create a shower station for homeless people, creating the Shower of Hope.
“We knew showers were needed, but once we started, more and more people kept coming and saying, ‘Oh yeah, I haven’t showered in a month, two months, three months, six months,'” Tillekeratne said. “So we continued to expand [the project].”
Tillekeratne said he saw the impact of the initiative almost immediately.
Good hygiene and cleanliness are essential to staying healthy – physically and mentally. The bathing was bound to improving mental health and taking a hot shower can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“[People experiencing homelessnness] are literally not comfortable with themselves, so when you see people taking a shower, when you see them saying they’re clean, not just that they’re clean, they’re happy… It’s really gratifying,” said Tillekeratne.
Tillekeratne estimated that out of all 22 shower locations, the Hope Shower provided a total of 1,500 showers to homeless Angelenos per week, which continues to grow as the project expands.
However, Tillekeratne pointed out that while this increase in better hygiene is important, it still does not solve homelessness in Los Angeles.
“We can give a person a shower, we can give them meals, clothes, hygiene items,” Tillekeratne said. “But at the end of the day, they’re still on the street.”
Los Angeles saw a 12.7% increase in homelessness from 2019 to 2020, according to the Almanac LA. This to get up among homeless people in Los Angeles is primarily linked to a lack of affordable housing, stagnant incomes, and a lack of investment in mental health services.
The services of the Hope Shower are offered in trailers with three cabins each, and each shower lasts 15 minutes. Guests are provided with shower necessities. Many shower sites also offer free haircuts, clothing, vintage merchandise, and monthly coronavirus vaccination and testing clinics.
Raymond Phillip, the congregational minister at West Adams Church of Christ, is linked to the Shower of Hope initiative. Phillip, who once experienced homelessness, recalled a time when he worked at McDonalds, and he was going to work after spending a night in his car. His experiences, he said, have helped him better understand the stigma of homeless people and their need for support. He now works to help “those in need”.
“My goal is not just to put food in the hand of a homeless person, but rather to see what we can do along the way to get them off the streets,” Phillip said.
Phillip’s personal connection to homeless people has made West Adams Church of Christ an exceptional place for the homeless community to feel safe and supported, according to Maribel Villanueva, operations manager for the Hope Shower.
“There isn’t a single member of the homeless community that passes by that doesn’t know Pastor Raymond,” Villanueva said. “He made it a point to always be in touch with our homeless community. And that’s why this site is so special.
Villanueva said the Shower of Hope was a success with the help of government grants, donations, fundraisers and volunteers. The West Adams site also hosts monthly barbecues, which only another Riverside site was able to do. The organization hopes to install its first homeless laundry service in about a month, according to Villanueva.
“Anything we needed, anything we wanted to contribute, any kind of resources, any kind of ideas we had, [Phillip] was always there to listen and 100% of the time to agree and give us the go-ahead at the end of the day,” Villanueva said.
Although Phillip has received praise for his support of the Shower of Hope, he said the success of the site is due to the collective efforts of the organization and its workers, who each play their respective roles.
“I would say we are like sweet potato pie. I may be the potato, but I’m not the sugar. I’m not the cinnamon,” Phillip said. “So when you take a piece of pie, you get potatoes, you get flour, you get sugar. You get it all in pieces. So you know we are part of it, but we are not everything.
In addition to the Shower of Hope, End Homelessness California also has other projects, including Destination Hope and Hope Housing for students. Both of these projects aim to provide people experiencing homelessness with safe places to live and the tools they need to get back on their feet, including hiring people experiencing homelessness who have used their services.
Although Tillekeratne said there is still a long way to go to end homelessness, he continues to work with his team, knowing that even a little help can completely change someone’s life.
Learn more about how to support End Homelessness California here.