Lava Mae Is Helping The Homeless By Making Cleanliness Accessible

The San Francisco based company has provided showers and toilets to over 3,000 people.
Doniece Sandoval. (Photo: Courtesy KIND)
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With a mission of taking “radical hospitality” to the street, San Francisco–based Lava Mae was founded by Doniece Sandoval in 2014. A lightbulb went off after Sandoval encountered a homeless woman crying that she would never be clean. In that moment, she realized that while food and clothing are essential to daily life, cleanliness is key to restoring a person’s dignity, well-being, and ability to create new opportunities. With that spark, she took an idea that many said was impossible and made it a reality by creatively converting public buses and trailers into private shower stalls and toilets on wheels. To date, Lava Mae has provided approximately 15,000 mobile showers to more than 3,000 homeless guests. As Sandoval illuminates in the above video, the impact of a shower cannot be underestimated. She says, “You watch one person go on to get a shower, and a totally different person comes out.”

Beyond showers, Lava Mae extends radical hospitality—a concept rooted in human kindness and dignity—to all homeless guests. Sandoval explains, “What we’ve seen in our approach is that people will rise to the level of care and treatment they are offered. Providing this unexpected level of care and innovation has helped restore dignity, rekindle hope and optimism, and fuel a sense of opportunity and resilience that is vital to stopping the downward spiral for those experiencing homelessness.”

Sandoval’s innate desire to help people, coupled with her ability to take an idea and turn it into a reality, is why she was recently named grand prize winner of The KIND Foundation’s KIND People program. With her $500,000 prize, she plans to expand Lava Mae’s mobile hygiene services to help more individuals in need. She will also launch an open-source tool kit to make it easy for others to replicate Lava Mae’s mobile hygiene programs in their own communities. She knows there’s an appetite for this sort of thing—Lava Mae has received more than 1,200 requests from around the world to replicate its services.

So what does Sandoval want you to do? “Extend kindness to those experiencing homelessness,” she suggests.