I was new to the argument that providing those who sleep rough with a bowl of soup or – in my case – a shower, was to perpetuate their life on the streets. A newly-made contact had wanted to prepare me for the opposition by playing devil’s advocate. I was horrified by the possibility that my work to create free showers for the homeless from a converted trailer or shipping container might do more harm than good. The Mayor’s Office response to my change.org petition was reiterated on a call with a Greater London Authority project officer, that they are committed to “combatting homelessness”. I thought that was a given. Less so: the specifics on how to achieve it. Each step of the ShowerBox journey has brought new, vital relationships, luckily, as the devil had done the trick. It took several discussions with this growing network of accidental advisors to reaffirm my position, that energy must focus on supporting each day of each life lived on the streets, in order to make a lasting difference. Moreover, organisations must combine efforts – maximised through effective communication and coordination – to make it happen.
The project has taken off since July, when I wrote an article about the difference free public showers would make in London and beyond. The petition followed with its aforementioned response. The GLA added, vaguely, that day centres have showers which will be further supported, but even if all centres had showers, opening hours are limited, some don’t allow pets, many living on the streets are recovering from addiction, rendering centres potentially hazardous and so on. There was the inference that launching a new service was somehow to detract from the existing offerings. Ignoring the perceptible ego in that argument, more showers will, at the very least, supplement the current efforts. At most, they will double as information points, with individuals referred to day centres for further support. The call ended in an opinion turnaround. “I suggest putting the ShowerBoxes where there’s most need for them”. Similar exchanges have emphasised the value that some decision-makers place on projections and statistics above human experience. Not all progress can be measured in bullet-points on a piece of paper.
Fast-forward just three months and various location avenues have been explored and the first facility will likely be mobile, created from a converted trailer. Through funding, the aim is to employ referred homeless individuals to run and maintain them, running them alongside existing services, such as soup kitchens. The speed at which the project has developed is due to astounding generosity. Thus far, I’ve had shipping containers, several complete shower systems and some office space in Piccadilly donated. There is a growing sum in a JustGiving account. A company has offered to convert the first box and others are interested in funding them long-term.
The second key to this work has been partnerships. Connections have been made with various individuals and homeless organisations on the ground who have been instrumental in the progress, offering unending encouragement and practical guidance. Amongst others, I received wonderful messages from Zack Polanski, Green Parliamentary Candidate for Cities of London & Westminster, and Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton. In taking the time to reply at length and so positively, both boosted my resolve which led me to open my laptop and send more emails. A ripple effect which is too often underestimated by many of those with the ability to effect change.
Homeless individuals often discuss the power that eye-contact has on how they feel about themselves. They are suddenly visible, human, and this is crucial in creating a strong foundation from which to regain control. Similarly, a shower, making one safer and feel more cared for, is a simple change with a massive effect. To combat homelessness, compassion must prevail, day by day.