Lava Mae

LOCATION: San Francisco, California

SUMMARY: BFI staff found Lava Mae to be a creative, highly replicable approach to solving a discreet and serious issue—potentially a trim tab solution for the homeless population.

PROBLEM SPACE: In communities around the globe, poor and unsheltered men, women, and children struggle mightily to be clean not through disregard for their personal hygiene but because our governments are failing to ensure a basic human right: access to water and sanitation.At the most basic level, Lava Mae addresses the lack of access to showers and sanitation faced by those experiencing homelessness. Our service helps eliminates barriers to opportunity and, more importantly, reconnects people with their dignity—reducing the illusion of ‘otherness’ that dehumanizes and isolates them from the broader community.A shower –something most of us take for granted –reconnects people to their dignity and humanity, seeds hope, and removes obstacles to opportunity such as housing, employment, social integration, and the maintenance of health and well-being. In creating Lava Mae, we sought to increase access to hygiene and meet people where they are -the street.

SOLUTION: Lava Mae repurposes retired municipal buses into bathrooms on wheels for those experiencing homelessness. By taking city buses –something people love to hate –and deploying them for social good, Lava Mae has created a model that has resonated around the globe.The strategy is based on three pillars: 1) a mobile solution, 2) service rooted in collaboration, and 3) implementation of a philosophy they call radical hospitality.By electing to be mobile, we avoided the fate of many ofSan Francisco’s nonprofits that have fled because of the astronomical rise in rents. While the homeless are scattered across the city, existing hygiene facilities and the majority of services are concentrated in central neighborhoods, making access challenging to impossible for many.