Changemaker Challenge Idea Helps to Reopen Mobile Showers for People Experiencing Homelessness

Changemaker Challenge Idea Helps to Reopen Mobile Showers for People Experiencing Homelessness

Think Dignity Shower

When the pandemic began, two mobile shower units for people experiencing homelessness, run by non-profit Think Dignity, were shut down for the safety of the homeless guests. Looking for a way to reopen the showers, Think Dignity reached out to the University of San Diego’s Changemaker Hub, to see if students participating in USD's Changemaker Challenge could come up with a solution to make the showers COVID-19 safe.

“We wanted to partner with USD to see how students are looking at this issue and how they are addressing homelessness in a very human-centered way. We were able to judge a lot of the entries in the Changemaker Challenge after posing questions on the issues we were facing with the 'Fresh Start Showers'. It was really surprising to see how many ideas the students thought of and how thoughtful they were when thinking about providing solutions that were really centered on every person’s dignity and well-being,” said Merlynn Watanabe, Programs & Operations Manager at Think Dignity and alumna of USD’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.

One of the Changemaker Challenge's winning ideas was selected and passed along to recent mechanical engineering graduate, Matteo Tousignant Hernandez ’21, to bring the idea to life.

“Starting from the initial idea, I had to do a considerable amount of research to further understand air particulates. We were even able to talk to subject matter experts through Think Dignity. I also talked with several of my engineering professors regarding the fluid mechanics of the spray system. I designed a system, had it reviewed and then started prototyping and piloting it to make sure it could be installed within this system,” said Hernandez.

After about a month and a half, that research and prototyping led to the development of a new air handling system that ventilates the shower space every one to two minutes while creating a misting system that disinfects every surface in the shower unit within 30 - 60 seconds, in between guests.

The “Fresh Start Showers” mobile program was recently reopened to people experiencing homelessness after being closed for more than a year. Guests can now use the showers in City Heights at the Wesley Community Services Center twice a month.

Robert Thomas was “overjoyed” when he received a flyer for the reopening of the “Fresh Start Showers.” Thomas had not had a place to shower in three weeks.

“Not only is it wonderful to be clean but I feel more confident that an employer would be more likely to hire me since I’m unemployed right now and I feel more confident that a property management person would rent me an apartment,” said Robert Thomas.  

It’s personal stories like this that inspired the work to get the “Fresh Start Showers” back in the community, providing an essential resource for people experiencing homelessness.

“Being able to utilize my USD engineering education to actually do something that is going to help people restore dignity within their lives is something that is amazing to me and overall has been an amazing experience,” said Hernandez.

“Being able to work with a current student and creating these solutions through the mobile shower trailer, it was so inspiring to see because it was building that connection within USD but also seeing how anyone from any field, any practice, any discipline can contribute to ending homelessness and contribute to creating those human-centered changes when addressing homelessness,” said Watanabe.

During the reopening event, vaccinations were also offered to homeless community members by Champions for Health, in partnership with USD's Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science.


Elena Gomez
(619) 260-2739