Milwaukee Nurse Creates Mobile Shower Trailer for the City's Homeless

Helping his homeless neighbors has become a mission.

Jun 6, 2019

Being able to get up in the morning and taking a nice hot shower is something many of us take for granted. It’s just part of our regular daily routine like having coffee and going to work.

But taking a shower every day, or even once a week, is not something that people living on the streets can do even though they want to. "It's not often at all," Alvin Eubanks told WISN. "We do not take showers." This will change soon.

Eubanks has lived the past 17 years under overpasses throughout Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and life in the streets is not easy. "We're homeless; people are out here crying. There's been homeless dying -- people do not care about us," Eubanks said.

Now, Muhammad Mahdi, who is known in the community as Nurse Mahdi, and his friend Ronnie Lockett are trying to make thing easier for the 1,000 or so homeless people who live on the city's streets. Milwaukee is the third poorest large city in the US with a poverty rate of 25 percent. They are raising money to build mobile shower units to help improve the hygiene of the homeless.

Since 2005, Mahdi has been going around the city to abandoned buildings and overpasses to find homeless neighbors who need help. He has coordinated neighborhood cleanups, handed out clothing, and provided medical help, according to Milwaukee Courier Online (MCO).

When he asks people to help the homeless, "People say 'Well I don't want to help people. I don't want to do certain things because they're going to buy liquor, they're going to buy drugs,'" Mahdi told WISN. "One of my first times going out, the first things they asked me for were water, toilet paper and 2-percent milk."

Now Mahdi is trying to fund and build what he calls "Community Resource Hygiene Clinics." The idea is to bring showers to people who live on the streets. But the mobile units will not just be showers, "It's a place they can come to and get resources through the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. We're trying to work with them and see what they can provide," he said.

Helping his homeless neighbors has become a mission for Mahdi. That's because he was homeless when he was a college student in Texas and couldn't find any place that would rent to a student. "I can just remember being afraid," Mahdi said. "You're alone, it's cold and you don't have any family. I always remember that when I see someone, because it's not easy."

Mahdi was lucky. A student in his class knew he was living in his car and took him in. He eventually found a job and an apartment, graduated from school and moved to Milwaukee. But he never forgot his experience.

He had ideas for the portable shower, and he knows how to fundraise, but he needed help with constructing the trailers. Mahdi approached his longtime community barber and friend Ronnie Lockett to help. Lockett, a veteran was happy to help, especially men who served in the armed forces and are now homeless.

The pair successfully built the first ten mobile showers for $2,200 and many hours of labor, and they plan to start using them summer 2019. The goal is to have 40 units that are funded by the city and private donations.

Lockett told MCO that he wanted to give back to the community that supports him by showing youth that they can be a catalyst in the community. That when brothers and neighbors work together, they can make a difference.

"I want people to one up me,” Mahdi told MCO. “I hope they say, ‘If that barber and nurse did that, I’ll do it bigger.’ I don’t care if it’s a competition, as long as people are helping people.”

Other organizations in other cities are also providing mobile shower units for the homeless. Lava Mae was founded in San Francisco, California in 2014 and the first mobile showers were two retired city buses that were converted into two private bathroom stalls that hooked up to fire hydrants.

Doniece Sandoval, founder and CEO of Lava Mae thought of the idea to bring hygiene units directly to the homeless. “If you could put gourmet food on wheels and bring it anywhere,” she thought, “why not showers and toilets?"

Things like taking a shower and wearing clean clothing are something we take for granted, but these basic items are not readily available to the homeless. Good-hearted people like Mahdi and Lockett are helping to give people back their dignity.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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