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Mobile Showers Just the Beginning

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

For most people, a hot shower is simply part of the daily routine. But for more than 7,000 Hawai?i residents experiencing homelessness, that hot shower has been a luxury...until now. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi reports.

When a 68-year-old homeless man named Ray came across the Hiehie Mobile Hygiene trailer parked off California Avenue in Wahiawa, he didn’t know what to expect.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Fifteen minutes later, Ray choked back tears after realizing the simple joy of a hot shower.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“God bless these people,” says Ray, “I haven’t had a hot shower in many years. I live on the river in a cabin with my dogs. That’s my little one. Puppy.”

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Ray, a homeless man from Wahiawa, poses with his dog after receiving the first, hot shower he's had in years.

The bright blue and green Hiehie Mobile Hygiene Center is fully equipped with three showers, with a toilet and a sink in each u

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Scott Stamps operates the Hiehie Mobile Hygiene Center for Project Vision.

“So you can go on in. So its a fully hot shower. We provide shampoo, conditioner, and body wash...” says Scott Stamps.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
One of three full bathroom units in the Hiehie Mobile Hygiene Center.

Stamps operates the 26-foot trailer, which includes propane tanks to heat the water and solar-powered lights and fans. Hiehie can accommodate anywhere from 15 to 20 showers a day before Stamps dumps the waste at the wastewater facilities in Pearl City.

“That’s what I do. That’s part of it. This is my baby. Yes it is. I feel like it’s my baby,” says Stamps, “I don’t want anyone else messing with it.”

The Hiehie trailer has been making its way around the island of O?ahu for nearly a month and is coming up on its hundredth shower any day now.

“Yeah, a lot of people really need it too,” says Ray, “Like I bathe every day in the river and some of them don’t bathe at all, and they really need it. Sorry to say it like that.”

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Valentin, Mitchell, and Stamps, discuss further opportunities to bring Hiehie services to areas where homeless service providers are already operating on O'ahu.

A hot shower is hard to come by for O?ahu’s homeless population, says Connie Mitchell, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Services.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Donated clothes and shoes were laid out near the Hiehie Mobile Hygiene Center during their visit in Wahiawa. Several homeless individuals came by to take home clothes but did not utilize the hygiene services offered.

“What we've observed is that there's a lot of services in the urban core but there have been disappearing bathrooms and not too many showers available for people unless they go to parks,” says Mitchell, “And of course the parks don’t have hot water either.”

Annie Valentin is the Executive Director of Project Vision, and helped spearhead the project. She says Hiehie can help reduce infections and disease, while at the same time helping to keep streets clear of human feces and urine. But most importantly.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Stamps collects data from a homeless woman named Darlene before she takes a hot shower in the Hiehie Mobile Hygiene Center. Data collection for the Hiehie Project will help address the homelessness challenges facing our community.

“Its providing the basic human need which is access to a warm, nice, long shower, which I think we all deserve,” says Valentin, “I know I'm in a better mood when I have a hot shower.”  

Through partnerships and donations, Project Vision raised $150,000 for the trailer. The organization already runs four mobile clinics statewide providing outreach services that started with vision care.

“You know it’s not like the silver bullet that will solve homelessness, but can we help facilitate further conversations about housing? Employment?” says Valentin, “It's all about the wrap-around services. That's the magic of this.”

Valentin plans to expand Hiehie’s services to other counties.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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