THE BLOG
04/13/2015 10:46 am ET Updated Jun 13, 2015

A Refreshing Twist on San Francisco "Mobile" Innovation

Did you know that over 7,350 homeless people in San Francisco, half of whom make the streets their home, have access to only sixteen stationary facilities where they can shower?

One woman is making it her life's work to change this. Doniece Sandoval.

"What I've been most surprised by is the fact that something so simple can be so powerful and yet in such limited access for people," says Doniece Sandoval, founder of Lava Mae, a mobile service providing showers and bathrooms to the city's homeless. "...There is a huge paucity where they [the homeless] can't access a facility to be clean in order to apply for jobs or find housing, to maintain health and well-being."

In the tech-savvy Bay Area, Doniece has created a refreshing twist on San Francisco's mobile innovation. Doniece, touched by a conversation she had with a young woman on the street who kept repeating that she would never be clean, found inspiration in the explosion of food trucks, and decided to take toilets and showers mobile, too.

Lava Mae, Spanish for "wash me," is delivering dignity one shower at a time. The organization has repurposed San Francisco's old diesel buses, adapting them into showers and bathrooms for the city's homeless. Mobile is key to Doniece, who explained that their service isn't subject to rising rents and potential evictions. More importantly, going mobile reaches more homeless people and provides the privacy that everyone deserves.

"Lava Mae was a way that I felt like alright I'm not ending homelessness but I'm bringing a slice of the pie that doesn't exist, and that's all about what Lava Mae is here to do. To fill that gap," says Doniece.

As a fellow business owner creating basic needs water solutions, I am impressed by Doniece's innovation and clear perspective in creating an environment appropriate and friendly to all. Not an easy feat and often overlooked in design. Doniece, is building a model that works. Phase two for Doniece is scaling in San Francisco so that Lava Mae will hopefully have four busses running to provide 50,000 showers a year. Lava Mae has also been contacted by other Bay Area cities and individuals around the globe -- from Singapore to Sao Paulo, Los Angeles to Atlanta, who want to create mobile showers for their communities.

Doniece believes that first shower is "transformative."

"It's like one person goes in and a totally different person comes out because they were able to not only physically wash away the grime, but to sort of wash away just for a moment, their troubles and their cares and feel fresh and like there are possibilities again."

This post is part of a series honoring the Toyota Mothers of Invention -- women who have demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and innovative concepts to positively impact the lives of others, whether in their own communities or on a global scale.