One U.S. City Has a Brilliant Plan to Help the Homeless Using Old City Buses


Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city known best for balloon festivals and a woman who burned herself with McDonald's coffee that was too hot, may now be adding a welcome new distinction.

A bill recently proposed by New Mexico state Rep. Stephanie Maez (D-Albuquerque) would appropriate public money for the creation of a "mobile shower" for the city's homeless population. According to HB 585, the state would establish a yearlong mobile shower pilot program "to provide a mobile facility ... to offer showers and bathroom facilities to allow homeless individuals to tend to their personal hygiene." The proposal would allocate $200,000 to the project that would come from the state's Mortgage Finance Authority.

According to a 2013 report by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, the city has 1,170 homeless residents.

The bill, which was passed unanimously in New Mexico's Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee, follows similar ideas that have bubbled up in California and Arizona. If passed, it would put the state on track to be the first to devote public funds to a mobile shower project, according to ThinkProgress.

New Mexico's innovative moves to fight homelessness come amid a string of equally creative efforts in other states. A previous Mic report highlighted an ingenious initiative in Madison, Wisconsin, to provide shelter to the city's homeless population by building a village of one room micro-homes, which was funded by private donation. In Indianapolis, the city council recently voted to adopt a "Homeless Bill of Rights." Among other things the bill grants a right to emergency medical care and a "reasonable expectation of privacy" according to the Indianapolis Star.

Nevertheless, approaches to chronic homelessness are far from unified and vary considerably across states and cities. In November 2014, the city council of Manteca, California, effectively criminalized sleeping outside, while local law enforcement in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, felt compelled to arrest a 90-year-old man for handing out food. Even New York City's famed Strand Book Store couldn't think of a better solution than douse homeless New Yorkers in frigid water who were sleeping outside their store.

Dale Williams, executive director of Midnight Run, a New York-based charity dedicated to distributing food, clothing and other items to the homeless, told Mic that, "cold and hunger are always an issue," and added that simply "finding a safe place to be" was a daily challenge.

Williams was intrigued by Albuquerque's mobile shower idea and noted that similar possibilities for homeless New Yorkers were few and far between, something he called a "missed opportunity."

"There are a few places in the city that offer shower possibilities, but not as many as there could be. Something like that is missed opportunity in New York," he said.