A photo of a mobile bathroom purchased by the city of Fresno free for the unhoused community to use.
Grace Bound Inc. Supervisor Earl Meyers III showed District 3 Councilmember Miguel Arias the inside of the mobile bathrooms, complete with showers. The mobile bathroom program launched Wednesday, July 6 outside of the Poverello House. Credit: Cassandra Garibay / Fresnoland

Roughly two years after the Fresno City Council approved mobile showers and restrooms for the unhoused community, the city’s first mobile shower trailer is up and running.

The trailer, which has four bathrooms equipped with showers, toilets and sinks, sits across the street from the Poverello House on Thursday morning. It was hooked up to a mainline water connection and ran off a generator. 

“Showers and restrooms are the No. 1 request from the homeless for decades,” District 3 Councilmember Miguel Arias said Thursday at the site of the mobile shower. 

Arias added that he hopes the restrooms will also relieve the need “to clean up human feces and urine from public buildings and from small business storefronts, which is a top complaint for the business community.” 

In 2020, the city approved CARES Act funding to purchase mobile bathroom trailers, Arias said. In January 2021, the Fresno Bee reported that the trailers had been purchased and were expected by late February. The city quietly launched its pilot program for the showers July 6. 

To date, the city has only received one trailer – equipped with four restrooms, one of which is wheelchair accessible – due to substantial supply chain delays, according to Arias. Phil Skei, the assistant director of Fresno Planning and Development, said the second mobile bathroom trailer estimated that the second trailer would not arrive for another nine months.

Arias added that the city received the first trailer several months ago but wasn’t able to begin operations until now because the trailer had to be customized for a generator and the city had to find an organization that could quickly begin operating the showers. 

The city partnered with Grace Bound Inc., a Fresno faith-based organization that had been operating a private mobile shower out of an RV for the unhoused community since 2018. Grace Bound Inc. will operate the mobile shower trailer in its pilot phase, then the city will issue a request for proposals to operate the trailers moving forward, Arias said. 

Arias said the program is likely to cost around $4,000 a month. Skei said each trailer cost around $130,000 to purchase.

The need for mobile showers

Earl Myers III, a supervisor for GraceBound Inc., and Natasha Crawford, a GrouceBound Inc. employee, sat under a canopy next to the trailer – next to them sat bins of soap, towels, underwear, snacks and personal protective equipment for those who need resources. 

“I think in this situation for a lot of people, it’s their only solace,” Crawford said of the shower. “It’s their way to be tucked away and by themselves for a minute.” 

Myers said on Wednesday roughly a dozen people used the showers and by 11 a.m. on the second day of the pilot program, six people had stopped into the mobile trailers.

“Everybody’s been respectful and clean, and it’s running pretty smooth,” Myers III said. “So we’re off to a good start.”

According to Arias, the trailer will not likely be stationed across from the Poverello House in the future because the homeless shelter and food kitchen operates publicly available showers at their facility, however the location gave the city time to “work out the kinks” and figure out what is needed to run the program. He added that several council members have begun identifying locations in which the trailer can be parked. 

For now, he said the plan will be to rotate the location on a weekly basis. It has not yet been determined where the trailer will be located next week. 

Ruben Ortega, who has lived in his van for roughly a year and is waiting for housing, said he was grateful for the new showers. Ortega said he usually showers at a gym, but feels that having public shower trailers is a more accessible resource for many that don’t have housing. 

“It’s great, it’s really great,” Ortega said. “My only question is, instead of traveling, can’t they have other other mobile showers, expand more of them, instead of just having just one? It’ll be helpful … and I know it’s something that could happen little by little.”

Arias said he hopes that in the future, the city will be able to purchase additional mobile restroom trailers and create a schedule so people know when and where they can access the showers.  

He said that the showers can be stationed wherever there is a hookup to the main waterline, an access point to the city’s sewer line and an open area for the generator to circulate air,  calling them a “citywide solution” to a “city wide crisis.”

“This is a basic human need we’re finally meeting,” Arias said. “This should have happened 20 years ago, but it’s here now and we’re gonna make the most of it.”

For now, the showers are expected to be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; where it will be located next has not yet been determined.

Correction: This article has been updated to provide a more accurate estimate of the timeline the second trailer will arrive and to correct the number of showers provided in each trailer.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.