It’s a luxury most of us take for granted, but for the nearly 100 of homeless individuals who bed down for the night at Dreams for Change-operated safe parking sites, accessing a shower became next to impossible during the pandemic.

After COVID-19 forced gyms to shut down, many San Diegans lost their access to showers and locker rooms that they relied on to prepare for a busy day at work. Fortunately, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund, however, Dreams for Change was able to quickly build a clean shower at its safe parking site off Imperial Avenue in San Diego.

“When you’re talking about a safe parking program, you’re talking about the working poor, people who are employed at minimum-wage or moderate-wage jobs and can only afford to live out of their cars,” said Dreams for Change CEO Teresa Smith. “A lot of people in our Safe Parking Program are essential workers, health care aides, grocery store clerks, restaurant workers, who have gym memberships so they can take a shower and suddenly weren’t able to take a shower before going to work. This was a desperate need.”

Smith founded Dreams for Change in 2009 to serve those impacted by the Great Recession. Its guiding beacon is to respond to the needs of communities by creating innovative and cost-effective programs to empower and stabilize the lives of underserved families and individuals.

The nonprofit’s outreach encompasses myriad initiatives, including workforce development, financial literacy and education and free tax preparation to ensure that those who qualify for the earned-income tax credit are filing for the benefit. In all, some 11,000 are impacted by Dreams for Change each year, including 250 or so through the safe parking program – established in 2009 and the first program of its kind.

Most of those who take part in the program are hardworking members of the community who simply cannot afford San Diego’s steadily rising cost of living. When they lost access to clean showers after local gyms shut down, they were facing more than an inconvenience.

“Living in your car makes showers hard to come by, especially since the pandemic,” said one Dreams for Change client. “The average person wants to wash the germs away and keep a pleasant body odor. In short, I’m very appreciative so glad that the shower is available.”

Said Brandon, 38: “Hard times can hit at any moment and situations can change so having a shower as a way of staying clean is a blessing.”

Still another client noted the showers benefit more than the homeless. “Staying clean while homeless is a task in itself, but to be able to stay clean during this pandemic makes it easier to control the spread of the virus which is most important at this time.”

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 Community Response Fund has helped more than 20 nonprofits like Dreams for Change that are providing essential services and basic needs to San Diegans impacted by the pandemic.

While the shower crisis has been addressed, more challenges await.

“I’m very concerned about what the state of homelessness is going to be like in the next four to six months when the eviction moratoriums expire and even more people are forced out of their homes,” said Smith.

You can help San Diegans in need by donating to the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund today.