In the startup world, a "pivot" is what your tech company does when the thing they were built for no longer seems like such a good idea. In San Francisco, one startup founder hopes to pivot a small fleet soon-to-be-retired public buses into moveable washrooms for the city's homeless population.
Lava Mae — a play on the Spanish words for "wash me" — was founded by entrepreneur Doniece Sandoval after she walked by a homeless woman repeating, "I'll never be clean." The company already has dibs on one of 40 coaches set to be phased out of Muni's fleet in the next few years and Sandoval says she's working with a local design firm to install three showers and a toilet on the retired bus.
Sandoval plans to hook the bus-showers up to the public water supply via fire hydrants — which is definitely more innovative than just popping the hydrants and hosing down the homeless. Assuming no one takes a shower longer than five minutes, Sandoval figures more than 100 people a day could use the facilities during an eight or 10 hour shift. The plan is to eventually roll out a mini-fleet of four mobile locker rooms operating seven days a week at different locations in the city.
“The United Nations states that access to clean water is a basic human right,” Sandoval told the Examiner, “but for many residents in our city, that is clearly not a reality. This is about restoring some of their dignity.”
Bevan Dufty, the city's director of HOPE, is already on board with the bus plan and has helped coordinate with Muni and the city's public utilities commission. Although Lava Mae plans to use volunteers to staff the buses, Sandoval will need about $75,000 to $100,000 to upgrade each bus from rolling trash bin to temporary bath house. Lava Mae is currently seeking grant funding and donations from charitable companies and individuals, as well as through an online donation page.