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September 2020
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CityLink Seattle

Hygiene Resources for City’s Most Vulnerable During Covid-19

  • City to Relocate Hygiene Station from Closed Waterfront to Accessible Location for Unhoused Clients 
  • Clients Have Taken More Than 6,300 Showers at City’s Two Shower Trailers  

For many of us, access to water and basic hygiene is something we never really think about. We turn on our faucets, reach for the soap and lather up. But for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, access to hand washing and showering can be a real struggle. “We bear witness to our neighbors who have had inadequate access to hygiene services,” says Maureen Ewing, Executive Director of University Heights Center. “They are unable to wash their hands during a pandemic.” 

This challenge has become more acute during arguably the most unprecedented public health crisis of our time. 

To meet the hygiene needs of our most vulnerable residents during COVID-19, the City directed Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) to procure and deploy hygiene facilities near high-impact unsanctioned encampments. In late March, SPU deployed six hygiene stations, which include two or three portable toilets paired with one handwashing sink. The Utility deployed additional stations in April, choosing locations easily accessible to those living unsheltered.  

Today, the hygiene stations SPU deployed augment 78 portable toilets operated by Seattle Parks and Recreation across the City, which are accessible 24/7, plus more than 106 permanent public restrooms located at parks and community centers-and four shower facilities at community centers throughout Seattle. The City also reopened five library locations to further help people experiencing homelessness address their hygiene needs. 

While toilets and sinks provided greater access to hygiene, the City wanted to offer more access to showers so SPU cast a nationwide net to secure two shower trailers, each containing three shower stalls with two toilets and sinks, from a company in California. Following Public Health-Seattle & King County guidelines, the Utility deployed them in May and partnered with Millionair Club Charity to manage them. 

“Our staff and workers are happy to be partnering with SPU and to be supporting this community health effort for those experiencing homelessness,” said Chris Rylko, Interim Executive Director of Millionair Club Charity. “The hygiene trailers provide a vital resource at a time when so many human services are hard to come by. The MCC workers manning the trailer sites, some of whom may be experiencing homelessness themselves, are earning life-changing income and are grateful for the opportunity to help themselves while also helping their community.” 

“I like working here,” said one MCC staff member. “Helping coordinate showers at the hygiene trailers is the first job I’ve had since coming to Seattle, and I’ll be happy to stick around as long as people need these services.”  

“I don’t know what I would do if you guys weren’t here. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

-Hygiene Facility Client

SPU is tracking shower use in the two trailers which stands at more than 6,300 showers and counting!  

During Covid-19, the ability to pivot and adjust has never been more important. When structural issues forced the Waterfront near Pier 58 to close, the City scouted new locations for the hygiene station that was located there. Staff will move the portable facility to Western Avenue near Columbia Street, a location still accessible to clients, in mid-September. 

For City employees working to stand up the hygiene facilities, it’s the people who motivate them to think about basic hygiene in a way they’ve never had to. 

“I feel fortunate to be part of Hygiene Trailer project and for the opportunity to not only help the vulnerable population in our city but also to work directly with people who are or were experiencing homelessness as part of this project. The humanity and humility serve as a reminder of why I am a civil servant.”  

SPU Project Manager Samantha Menathy