Doniece Sandoval has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $75

Successful SF homeless shower bus Lava Mae looks to expand

A Muni bus that was retrofitted to provide sanitation stations for homeless people has been so successful that the founder is trying to expand the goodwill venture.

Doniece Sandoval, 52, who started the Lava Mae bus, launched an IndieGoGo campaign last month to raise $75,000 for another decommissioned coach to hit the streets. As of Tuesday afternoon, $45,669 had been donated, on top of $25,000 from two San Francisco residents. The campaign ends Oct. 30.

Reaching the $75,000 would allow the second Lava Mae bus to get retrofitted in January and launch as a pilot in February. Through the first bus pilot that hit the streets June 27, Sandoval determined that a bus operating six-hour shifts five days a week could handle 42 showers a week, or 12,500 a year.

Since launching, the original bus has provided more than 700 cleansing sessions for some 450 homeless people.

That bus operates from 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursdays and Fridays at 344 Ellis St. in the Tenderloin and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at Capp and 16th streets in the Mission. Sandoval said the experience has been “pretty amazing.”

“We're finding some of the people we service have jobs but they can't afford housing and cannot get into a shelter, so they're living in cars or on the streets,” she said. “In order to keep their jobs, they have to stay clean, so the gratitude we see from these people is just overwhelming and humbling.”

If the fundraising campaign is successful, the second bus will start as a pilot running three times a week, which will allow for the original bus to operate five days a week.

Two more buses were made available by Muni, and Sandoval is working to secure corporate sponsors — perhaps in the health care sector — to retrofit them for service possibly by late fall 2015.

“Bus 1 and 2 were like the people's buses, just everyday people who gave anywhere from $10 to maybe $1,000,” Sandoval said. “But we're hoping that by demonstrating how universal and how passionate this issue resonates with people, that we'll convince a couple of companies to actually get behind funding Bus 3 and Bus 4.”

Having corporate sponsors, she said, would allow her and her small crew of volunteers to stop worrying about fundraising and focus on providing the service at hand.

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