People in need of basic water and sanitation services can’t wait for San Francisco leaders to update The City’s abysmal public restroom availability.
But now, they have at least one new option to turn to. The recently-opened “Hygiene Hub” at St. Anthony’s homeless service center, located in the heart of the Tenderloin.
“This place has the best showers I’ve ever experienced for free, and even better than most places I’ve lived in,” said Damien, who stopped by for a shower on a recent Wednesday morning. (Damien asked not to use his last name for privacy.) “Until there’s more affordable housing and the pandemic is over, we need more of these.”
Another guest, Ms. Kathy, was relieved to have somewhere to go after the pandemic caused some of the places she previously visited for laundry services to close down. “This is incredible,” she said. “I really can’t believe it.”
Visitors who walk into the new hub, located on the first floor of 150 Golden Gate Ave., are greeted by Carien “CC” McKneely-Bolds, who goes over some simple ground rules and points them in the direction of whatever service they might need.
Laundry and hot showers are in high demand already, but many guests who come through are also pleasantly surprised to find everything from anti-fungal creams to nail clippers and lice shampoo. There are also hygiene kits to go with items like toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a variety of sizes and fits for a clean change of clothes.
“Everyone should be able to choose their own clothes. Most people often aren’t thinking about that, but it is a privilege,” said McKneely-Bolds. “I’m serving up hope here, one load of laundry at a time.”
St. Anthony’s has long offered free meals and clothing to unhoused San Franciscans, but the new Hygiene Hub was born out of survey responses showing that 70% of unsheltered people served by the nonprofit said they didn’t have a safe place to take regular showers and 80% didn’t have access to laundry.
The hub is estimated to provide up to 20,000 showers and 10,000 laundered loads annually. Guests have 15 minutes to use one of three unisex showers on a first-come, first-serve basis.
On days when lines are long, guests are able to wait in a lobby, sign up for a reminder to come back if they have a cell phone, or they can wait across the street in a church that keeps its doors open during the daytime for anyone who wants to come by for a safe and quiet place to rest.
Like nearly a third of her co-workers at St. Anthony’s, McKneely-Bolds experienced homelessness herself. And she found her way to stable housing with the help of services offered at the center, such as the free clothing program, which creates a shopping-like experience for guests to pick out new or gently used clothing.
In addition to meeting basic water and sanitation needs for guests, the aim of the program is to connect visitors with other services such as on-site workforce training, recovery programs and other medical services.
McKneely-Bolds has big plans for the Hygiene Hub. She is currently raising money to install TVs and a mural near the laundry machines. The Hub also planning systems that will notify guests when it’s their turn to shower or their laundry is done through a nudge sent to their phones.
“I want this place to feel like a spa for anyone who comes through and curtail experiences to each guest,” said McKneely-Bolds. “If someone struggles with drug use, pushing away community is a death sentence. This is about meeting people with kindness and respect.”