Mobile shower for homeless people in Brussels
Annick Hovine and Louise Vanderkelen published on Monday the 26th of June 2017
In the street, dignity takes a big hit. There are emergencies: eat, drink, and find a doorstep, a piece of corridor or a squat to spend the night. When in survival mode, hygiene becomes a luxury. Some structures are put in place (public laundries, public showers….) for people in situation of poverty. But many of them don’t make it there. Because they are too scared, or distrust “institutions”. Because the schedules are too tight, the access is too regulated, queues and a long wait and in the end a very little time allowed under the shower… Because 1 or 1,5 euros is too expensive when one has nothing. Because they do not want to leave their cartons boards or their caddie in front of the metro entrance and take the risk of “loosing” their spot in the street.
Since January, “Rolling shower”, a mobile-home specially equipped with toilets and showers, offers a service of mobile hygiene to the people in situation of extreme deprivation. This vehicle rides around the center of Brussels three afternoons per week.
Friday afternoon, Rolling Shower took a stopover at Sols Street, near Cental Station, to offer a shower but also a coffee, biscuits, time and goodwill.
Water, time and goodwill
After 5 months strolling around, the Rolling Shower is still at the beginning of its adventure. “We always think that people are more autonomous during the summer. It didn’t really go as planned: we have more people now than in the winter”, says Pascal Biesesmans, social worker and operational director of the project. “People are asking for showers because they want to cool off. We also fill in many bottles of water”. The 160-litres tank is not always enough. “We can plug in on Hydrobru, like firemen do, but in our case, we have to pay for that water…”.
Rolling shower is a non-profit organization that was created in 2016 by three friends. The idea was born in a discussion over a drink, as they all shared their feelings and experiences with the difficulties of homeless people. One of them heard about the existence, in Paris, of the organization “Mobil’douche”, which attempts to support the needs of the poorest people. The three friends then decided to go to Paris and meet the Mobil’douche team in order to experiment the concept. They come back feeling convinced: there will be a Rolling Shower in Brussels.
“In the street, it is difficult for the poorest people to take care of themselves. It is difficult to, when people don’t respect you anymore and everyone is avoiding you. We wanted to act. By offering a shower, soap, shampoo and clean clothes…”, says Anne-Françoise Moyson from the Rolling Shower team. But also a cup of tea or coffee, biscuits, time and goodwill. It is mostly about bonding with people.
A thousand calling cards of this non-profit organization have been distributed. The showers are free, without registration and without waiting list. On average, in one afternoon, 5 to 6 homeless people have the opportunity to take time for themselves in this furnished van.
“I want to be handsome. I am seeing my daughter tomorrow!”
The Rolling Shower mobile-home is parked on Sols Street, in the neighborhood of Central Station. A man gets out, drying his arms and hair with a towel. David is about 30 years old, with light green eyes and dreadlocks in a bun. It is the first time that he uses the mobile shower. “It has been a while that I wanted to try. I asked to be woken up when the van arrives”. When the weather gets too warm, David prefers to sleep during the day and live at night. “Otherwise, it becomes unbearable. But the result is my schedule is all lagged. What time is it?”
Sitting at the small table on the side-walk, he tells us that he is not used to go into the centers that offer showers in Brussels. It is no ideal, he says. “We have to take everything with us, we cannot leave anything behind if we don’t want our belongings stolen. It is also a risk that our spot gets taken by someone else. Rolling Shower comes to us. That is better. Plus, it is free ! ». David got told about Rolling Shower by other homeless people living in the neighborhood. “I used to live in a mobile-home like this one. I know that the shower is tiny but it does so much good. Especially when the weather gets this warm!”
Shoe fitting the feet
Little by little, other homeless people come by. While waiting for the shower to come free, they sit around the table and have a coffee or a soup, and they talk with the volunteers. “There is the shower, but they also give us new clothes after, so that we don’t put dirty clothes back on”, says Jean-François. “Tomorrow is an important day for me. I want to look good. I am seeing my five years-old daughter!”, he adds with a smile. He is trying on several pairs of shoes. “I need to look presentable”. Jean-François lives in the street for a few years, and celebrated his 25th birthday on Friday. “There are ups and down, all the time. Sometimes I get by, and then I feel down again. But this time will be the last time”. Jean-François suffers from severe depression for more than 11 years. The mobile-home of Rolling Shower helps him nurture his image. “It is mostly for hygiene and self-esteem”.
The advantage of the mobile shower is that he does not have to leave his spot for a long time. “I ask some good friends to look after my belongings and my dogs. I cannot bring all of it with me. There are a few sweaters, some blankets. I hid the water bottles I received from the Samu Social because with this weather, they frequently get stolen”. The young man just found shoes than fits his feet.
Annick Hovine and Louise Vanderkelen
Source : Lalibre