Homelessness can be a real double-edged sword. You have nowhere to comfortably sleep and shower, but you have a much better chance of getting back on your feet if you’re clean, rested and presentable. That might seem like a hopeless challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Many cities offer a variety of options where you can shower for free or close to it.
The Best Option: Homeless Shelters
The obvious answer, of course, is to get into a shelter. Some cities even set aside separate locations specifically to accommodate certain demographics, such as pregnant women or teenagers. Shelters with a more narrow clientele can be less crowded, more comfortable and less intimidating.
All shelters typically offer free beds, and many provide food, internet, and will help with job placement when at all possible, all for free. And they almost always have showers. Some will let you just use the shower even if you don’t want a bed for the night.
Your best bet is to get there as early in the day as possible before the place begins filling up for sleepovers. You might have to perform some chores in exchange for a place to sleep and to get clean. If you’re not sure if your city has a shelter or if there’s one reasonably nearby, check with your county’s Department of Social Services. If you have change and can find a pay phone, you can simply call to learn your options.
Try Charity Services
More and more communities are becoming aware of the plight of the homeless and they – and their citizens – are taking steps to reach out with helping hands. Ask about city or county services and local charitable efforts while you have the DSS on the phone. You might be surprised by what you find.
Atlanta offers Hope Thru Soap, a traveling trailer complete with a shower, and San Francisco has Lava Mae, a nonprofit that tours the city with converted buses and shower trailers that the homeless can access to get clean for free. Just sign in and wait your turn. You’ll also receive all sorts of extras, like razors, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Lava Mae has expanded from San Francisco to Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley as of 2017.
Consider stopping by your local church if your area doesn’t offer any dedicated homeless charities. Tell someone of your plight and ask for help. There might be a shower available in the church facility, or the staff might be able to point you in the direction of a charity that offers one. Some kindhearted member of the congregation might even invite you into his home so you can get clean.
Buy a Gym Membership
Yes, the word “buy” might seem impossible given your circumstances, but a gym can be an excellent resource for showers – not just for one day but on an ongoing basis. YMCAs often offer inexpensive memberships. It shouldn’t cost you more than $30 to $40 a month at most for a place where you can just slide in, get clean, and get out. You’ll find that the locker rooms in these places always have showers.
Upper-tier, privately-owned gyms might have upfront initiation fees that can be prohibitive, but city gyms often don’t and some offer cheap day passes. Gyms are also a good place to get out of the elements when the weather gets nasty, so you’ll get a lot for your money. Try to find one that’s open 24/7 if you’re uncomfortable rubbing elbows with a bunch of fitness freaks or athletes. If you don’t want others to figure out that you’re homeless, you can take the time to use some of the other facilities while you’re there rather than just darting in and out for some hot, running water.
National Parks and Public Beaches
Parks and beaches are better options in warm months or temperate climates because these showers are often outside. Many parks that offer camping have communal shower facilities – look near the admission area or designated campsites. Public beaches often offer shower areas as well so beachgoers can wash the sand off before they head home, but you’ll probably need a swim suit or at least some minimal attire because these locations are not particularly private.
If All Else Fails, Just Wash Up
Don’t give up if you come up empty despite all your efforts. Consider moving on to another town or city – if possible, a larger town that offers more opportunities across the board and not just showers. In the meantime, you can still get reasonably clean even without the luxury of a hot shower. Baby wipes or even paper towels and some hand soap and hot water in a public restroom can do once in a while and in a pinch. Grocery stores are often good locations, but try to go at night, not when numerous moms are shepherding their kids in and out of stalls. These restrooms are typically cleaner than those in gas stations. Restaurant bathrooms are usually too busy and are often reserved for diners.