What is Shower to Empower?

Shower to Empower is a mobile navigation unit operated and funded through a partnership between the House of Hope Community Development Corporation (CDC), Team Williams, LLC, and the City of Providence. Shower to Empower is a one of a kind model and uniquely links basic needs such as complimentary showers and haircuts with case management and medical navigation services in a mobile delivery model. It is aimed to provide assistance and restore dignity to Rhode Island’s experiencing homelessness, ultimately making connections to essential services.

About the Unit:

The unit is a customized 20’ x 8.3’ trailer that includes two individual showers, heated floors, an area for case management, and an enclosed private medical space. The mobile unit will travel throughout Providence alongside House of Hope CDC’s street outreach team providing hot showers, haircuts, case management, and medical navigation services to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Early beginnings of Shower to Empower:

Bret Williams from Team Williams, LLC. was inspired by a series of firsthand video accounts of the impact a shower and haircut offers to those in need, and was moved to see this implemented to those in need in his home state of Rhode Island. After talking to various non-profits on the issues of homelessness, the idea of a mobile unit came after a visit to Rich Trailers, a custom trailer manufacturer based in Indiana. After spending a night shadowing the outreach team at House of Hope CDC, the idea of a mobile unit began to take shape. An opportunity to collaborate with the City of Providence evolved and Shower to Empower became a reality.

What was the evolution of the City’s Navigation Center project?

In January 2017, the City of Providence selected House of Hope CDC to serve as the operator of the Providence Navigation Center, an open-access daytime program for individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Center model was designed to be a low-barrier environment for individuals experiencing homelessness to meet their basic needs and get connected with a wide variety of services. It was envisioned as a welcoming entry point for individuals to “navigate” from the streets into a home, with a coordinated network of service providers and peer mentors on site.

Throughout spring 2017, House of Hope CDC worked closely alongside City officials to identify a space that would be easily accessible to individuals across the City and balance the needs of neighborhood residents and business owners. During this time, House of Hope CDC launched a Community Connector program at the Providence Public Library staffed by peer mentors to provide case management to individuals experiencing homelessness. In just six months, 15 people were connected to permanent, affordable housing through the program.

In searching for a permanent space, it became clearer that no single site could meet the needs of all providers and constituents. As a result, House of Hope CDC proposed a creative solution stemming from collaboration with Team Williams, LLC. — an offer of “space” through a mobile unit, delivering services directly to those who need them.

Why a Mobile Unit?

Across the country, mobile units focused on both hygiene and medical services for homeless individuals have proven a successful mode of engagement particularly for individuals who are intimidated by traditional shelter and health care systems, or have experienced abuse. Organizations such as Oregon Harbor of Hope, Shower to the People, Dignity on Wheels, Live Fresh, and Lava Mae all focus on restoring dignity to those experiencing street homelessness through hygiene and personal care services with mobile shower and laundry RVs and buses.

As we found through our own search for a location, transportation is a serious issue that remains unsolved with any permanent space. Having a mobile unit with basic necessities that can complement House of Hope CDC’s pre-existing outreach team and serve people where they are will be extremely beneficial in bringing more people into contact with case management and medical care services.

Who Will It Serve?

With 1,180 individuals experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island on any given night, Shower to Empower will serve some of the hardest to reach populations that are living on the streets of Providence. The ongoing challenges of connecting those who are disconnected required a solution that is creative collaborative, and compassionate.

What services will it provide?

Shower to Empower will provide showers, haircuts, medical services, and case management to those in need. This will allow House of Hope CDC outreach workers to further engage with individuals in need.

Many services and referrals may be provided on the spot during outreach, others will require a sit-down follow-up meeting, including applying for housing, employment, and social security benefits. Similarly, while the medical providers (a family nurse practitioner and psychiatrist) who do outreach with the House of Hope CDC are able to provide some care literally on the street, this support realistically requires a secure and confidential space.

Need for Medical Assistance:

In 2014, 855 members of the homeless community were surveyed about their risk factors, including their health needs. Sixty-one percent of these individuals reported having some type of disability. Thirty-two percent reported lung issues, 29% having been attacked while homeless, 25% brain injury, and 17% heart disease. Despite this prevalence of need, 58% percent reported that they receive their care from the emergency room; this is reflected in 3,815 emergency room visits by 545 clients and 2,761 inpatient hospitalizations by 276 clients. Additionally, 47% of individuals surveyed reported having gone to the emergency room for a mental health-related reason.

As the numbers above describe, individuals experiencing homelessness have difficulty accessing and maintaining contact with medical care. Coordinating care between multiple settings (acute care environments, behavioral healthcare providers, primary care providers, specialists) is also an ongoing challenge. Having a staffed mobile unit will help both to bridge psychiatric and primary care to patients and to navigate referrals and follow-up care as they engage with mainstream providers.

How is this funded?

Team Williams, LLC has funded the creation of the customized multi-use trailer and truck to serve the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The unit includes two showers, a medical exam room, and multi-use space for services such as haircuts and case management. The City of Providence is allocating Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to fund a team of case managers and peer mentors that will staff and maintain the unit.

Who Will Operate the Unit?

Drawing on a strong network of existing partnerships with Providence based social service providers, Hope of Hope CDC will operate Shower to Empower as an innovative tool to engage with an otherwise disconnected population.

Through ongoing partnerships with Alpert Medical School of Brown University, the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, and the University of Rhode Island College of Nursing to incorporate students into Shower to Empower. Students will work on interdisciplinary teams with House of Hope CDC’s case managers to support individuals in navigating the healthcare system and addressing complex healthcare needs.

Where will it be located?

Upon launch, the mobile navigation unit will be located at 59 Central Street, off of Broad Street near Trinity Square. It will be operational from 9-11 am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Following the launch, House of Hope CDC and its partners will continue to search for additional locations, preferably in the greater downtown area of the city due to the high concentration of people experiencing homelessness in that region of the city.

Who are the collaborators?

House of Hope Community Development Corporation is a non-profit affordable housing developer in the City of Warwick, with homeless services programming throughout the state. The organization was founded in 1989 in Warwick, Rhode Island, with a mission to prevent and end homelessness in the state and end the personal and social trauma of homelessness. House of Hope CDC creates affordable housing delivered with life changing services and work with other advocates for policies to ensure that everyone can have a safe, stable home. In 2016, we provided services to 1,099 individuals experiencing homelessness across Rhode Island, and support approximately 110 in housing during any given month. Our team of exceptional case managers provide a host of supportive services to assist our constituents in securing income, health insurance, and most importantly, permanent housing.

Team Williams, LLC is owned and operated by Bret Williams, a local entrepreneur who lives in Narragansett, R.I and graduated from the University of Rhode Island. Williams served as President and CEO of Woodchuck Cider until 2012. Team Williams, LLC., focuses on local philanthropic efforts including House of Hope CDC, Habitat for Humanity, Adoption Rhode Island, as well as up and coming companies.

The City of Providence, under the leadership of Mayor Jorge Elorza, is committed to systemically addressing, and working towards eliminating, homelessness in the city. The navigation center project is one part of a wider, multi-pronged strategy to reach that goal.