ShowerUp brings dignity and comfort to the homeless and working poor in Nashville through hot showers.
Since it’s founding in 2016, the organization has been providing showers and toiletry items at its mobile shower trailers to people who don’t have any other place to wash up. Over the past four years, ShowerUp have provided this service to over 7,000 members of the community.
Now ShowerUp has a fourth mobile shower unit serving Music City thanks to a SuperGrant from SmileDirectClub and the Nashville Predators Foundation. ShowerUp used the funds to buy a new tow vehicle to pull its three-shower unit to different locations all over town.
“Nashville has a large number of working poor and working homeless. Some of them do pretty heavy-duty, manual labor,” says ShowerUp co-founder Paul Schmitz. “Before we launched ShowerUp, they would go to the river to bathe, they would wait till it rained, or they would wash up at a sink in a public restroom.”
Thanks to the organization’s SuperGrant, even more people will have access to the important, empowering experience of showering up.
When you live on the street, a hot, steamy shower in a private stall feels like heaven. But before ShowerUp showed up, a shower was out of reach for most people living on the street. That’s because there were only 12 shower heads in metro Nashville available, and they typically had limited hours.
Now ShowerUp trailers allow 100 to 200 people a week get a hot shower in a clean, private stall with a locking door, along with towels, washcloths, soap, and shampoo. “A locked door is a luxury when you live on the street,” Schmitz says.
But ShowerUp isn’t just about helping people wash up. It’s about helping them find the confidence to move forward in their lives.
“The shower is part of a mission to be involved in a person’s life,” Schmitz says. “We’re a first line of interaction for those who are living in a tent or on the street. We build trust. We restore dignity to their lives, along with confidence and hope. We let them know that they are loved and they matter.”
ShowerUp serves people of all ages, races, and genders who range from veterans on the street to families living in their cars. They assist many people who may suffer from joblessness, disability, or addiction.
ShowerUp delivers more than the chance to get clean for a day. Kevin, for example, became homeless for the first time in his life at the age of 50. The business where he’d worked for years shut down after his boss got COVID-19. Kevin lost his job.
Unable to pay his rent, Kevin had been on the street for 10 days when he came to a ShowerUp mobile unit.
“He had been washing up with bottles of water,” Schmitz says. “He was hot, dirty, and sapped when he came to us. When he got out of the shower, he was transformed. You saw the difference immediately. You could tell he felt so much better.”
Feeling better can sometimes lead to doing better, too. A homeless man in his mid-30s had been on the street for eight months when he told a volunteer after his shower, “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want help for my addiction.” Schmitz made some calls, and by the end of the afternoon the man was on his way to a rehab facility. A ShowerUp volunteer drove him, stopping by the man’s family home in Nashville en route so he could tell his mother that he was on the way to changing his life.
“He worked a job, he just needed to get free of his addiction,” Schmitz says. “He got help because people showed up who cared.”
SmileDirectClub teamed up with the Nashville Predators Foundation during the 2019-2020 hockey season for the SuperGrant program. The partners plan to give four or five SuperGrants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 annually to area organizations that empower people in times of transition. Investing in the people of Middle Tennessee is one way the Nashville Predators Foundation and SmileDirectClub can give back to the community.
The grant to ShowerUp couldn’t have come at a better time. Schmitz says the organization has seen a 62% increase in the number of people using its showers year-over-year due to the Nashville tornados in March 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schmitz has seen those showers change lives. “We had a guy come back to see us; his name was George. He said, ‘You helped me a year ago when I was on the street,'” Schmitz says.
“Because he was able to get a shower on a regular basis, he was able to go to job interviews. He got a job. He got an apartment. He got a car. And he got a girlfriend. He wanted to come back to say ‘thank you.'”