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Helping Collin County’s Homeless Get Clean

A Q&A with Lance Olinski, founder & CEO of Streetside Showers

We may laugh about going a few days without a shower (thank goodness for dry shampoo!), but for Collin County’s homeless people, staying clean is a serious—and humiliating—challenge. That’s why McKinney resident Lance Olinski and his wife Shannon founded Streetside Showers, a mobile hygiene service, last June. Each week, Streetside Showers stops at four locations: The Vintage Church in McKinney, Hope Clinic in McKinney, City House in Plano and Our Daily Bread in Denton. Ahead of the organization’s one-year milestone, Olinski reflects on the success of Streetside Showers and talks about where he sees the mobile service going next.

What inspired you to establish Streetside Showers?
I’ve been part of efforts like the Collin County Homeless Coalition and Salvation Army advisory board for the 12 years that my family has lived in McKinney. So while I was involved in our community, I wasn’t fully aware of its needs. One day, I saw a man trying to wash himself in a rest stop bathroom. I saw how desperate he was to simply be clean. We’re in McKinney—we’re not a developing place; water and a shower should be a human right. I thought to myself that if we have mobile car washes and mobile pet groomers, surely we could have some showers.

People often take the ability to take a shower for granted. What can this essential act of self-care mean to a person?
The need for hygiene care is huge, because it affects how someone engages in life. If you don’t feel good because you don’t have access to something as essential as a shower, how can you move forward? How can you even think of getting a job when you don’t know the next time you can clean yourself? It’s just a shower, but it’s a very human thing to want to be clean. A common response we get from people is, “I feel human again.” The most important part of this is not the shower— it is restoring human dignity.

What is the Streetside Showers experience?
You sign in, providing your name and some basic information. We’re not concerned with who you are or what you’ve done, but a record of visitors helps us apply for funding and make sure that we’re meeting community needs. Then it’s first come, first served. Showers are 15 minutes for men and 20 minutes for women. We use Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap in lavender, an all-in-one shampoo and soap that’s biodegradable and safe for all skin types. Lavender is a soothing scent and acts as a natural bug repellent. Each visitor receives a fresh pair of underwear, two pairs of socks and a hygiene kit with soap, shampoo, mouthwash, lip balm and other necessities. We also stock feminine products, so women can take pads and tampons as needed.

Streetside Showers is currently operating in locations throughout McKinney, Plano and Denton. Any plans for the future?
I’ve spoken with the Mayor of Richardson, Paul Voelker, about establishing a location there. Our most recent expansion was into Denton, which paves the way for us to be in Fort Worth in the future. I want to set up a service in downtown Dallas, but it takes time to get approvals and secure everything. Once the needs in Dallas-Fort Worth are met, I would love to take Streetside Showers to Austin and Houston. A dream of mine is to eventually build permanent locations to go with our mobile service.

What do you hope an initiative like yours inspires in the North Texas community?
It encourages our community to think creatively in response to local issues. There are so many needs in the homeless community, but you can’t address them all. Sometimes I’m asked why we don’t provide clothes, shoes or food—but I have a niche providing a full hygiene service. Our time is best spent dedicated to alleviating one need, and hopefully what we’re doing raises awareness and inspires other people to address another area. So if they see that we offer free socks, they can start something to provide shoes to people in need.

Does Streetside Showers work with local or corporate partners?
We rely on people donating time and resources to stock and assemble the hygiene kits, socks and underwear. We also have several beautiful partnerships. At each location, a nearby hotel provides towels and launders them when we’re done. For example, the Embassy Suites lends us towels and washcloths in Denton, so our visitors get to use a nice, Hilton Hotel-style towel. It’s a simple thing, but an incredibly kind contribution.

What does the community involvement and support mean to you?
It’s a community issue, so it’s important that there is a community response. There is a pride in living here that I believe everyone feels. Even members of our community who are homeless, they still consider McKinney to be their home.