There’s no question that the gentrification gap in San Francisco is ever-widening. A walk down Market Street — where tech giants and start-up offices pepper a neighborhood overrun by poverty — is a testament to that. And, now more than ever, there is immense pressure for these tech companies to give back to the community.
Enter Lava Mae, a Google-funded mobile operation that provides restroom and bathing facilities to San Francisco’s homeless population. According to the Lava Mae site, there are only seven functioning showers in the entire city to serve a homeless population of more than 3,500. Lava Mae takes former MUNI buses and transforms them into showers and toilets on wheels. The buses currently travel to the Mission and Tenderloin neighborhoods, park on the street, and allow people 10 or 15 minutes to use the facilities. Each bus boasts skylights, gender-inclusive designs, clean water, and a safe environment to bathe for those in need. "If you can take gourmet food and put it on wheels, I thought, why not showers and toilets?" says Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval.
Not only are the buses efficient, they're also tech-savvy, allowing guests to preregister (if they so choose) via an app. That may sound counterintuitive, but as Sandoval recently told Wired, it is a common misconception that homeless people do not have access to smartphones or Wi-Fi. Lava Mae intends to make registering for the service as simple as possible. Kudos to Google for supporting this worthy cause. We hope to see more Lava Mae buses rolling around the city soon.