Ojai Valley Family Shelter administrator Ally Mills (left) and board member John Brooks take delivery of a former transit bus that’s being converted into the shelter’s new mobile shower.
Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter
Originally Published: Friday, 18 September 2020 12:56
“Can you imagine 120 degrees and not having a shower?” asked homeless shelter volunteer John Brooks, referring to Labor Day weekend’s record-breaking heat wave in Southern California.
Brooks serves on the board of Ojai Valley Family Shelter, which recently took delivery of a bus that’s being converted into the shelter’s new mobile shower.
A shower is something most people take for granted, but for the homeless, it’s a means to a healthier lifestyle that’s not always available. “These people, who are our brothers and sisters, don’t have that,” Brooks said.
The bus will replace the nonprofit’s current mobile shower, an aging, converted RV dating back to 1985. “It’s on its last legs,” Brooks said. “It’s been a goal of the shelter for a long time to replace it.”
To that end, Brooks, a retired radio news journalist whose career included a combined 34 years with Los Angeles stations KNX and KFWB, went shopping online and found an 8-year-old former transit bus that more than fit the bill. “It just exceeded our expectations,” Brooks said.
The 25-foot-long bus, equipped with a handicapped lift, was delivered to the shelter from Seattle on Sept. 2. “This will be fully ADA-compliant for people with walkers or wheelchairs,” Brooks said.
The shelter got a lucky break when it was approached by Vernon Alstot, co-founder and president of Care Podz, a Ventura company that builds showers inside shipping containers for the homeless community. “The most generous person in the universe,” according to Brooks, Alstot has volunteered his time and expertise to design the interior of the bus.
A shelter for the homeless of the valley since 1993, OVFS hosts shelters during the winter season where people can stay, sleep and be fed. Shelter locations alternate between six area churches and Ojai Valley Grange.
When COVID-19 hit, the shelter put people up at the Grange Hall for three extra months. “The Grange has no showers, but our mobile RV was there,” Brooks said.
This summer, the mobile shower has been set up at St. Andrew’s Church and Ojai Presbyterian Church, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
In addition, OVFS has pledged to share the bus with the city of Ojai in times of disasters such as wildfires, floods and earthquakes. “It’ll serve the entire community as well as serving the homeless in the valley,” Brooks said.
Funds to purchase the bus came from both private and corporate donations. “We just got the word out,” Brooks said. Major sponsors included Venco, Sespe Creek Collective, the city of Ojai and Ojai Presbyterian Church.
From the very start, Brooks was a driving force in acquiring the bus, especially his postings on social media to help raise donations, according to Ally Mills, shelter administrator. “John was just amazing,” she said.
So was shelter board president Martha Ditchfield. “She really stepped up to help this last season, and with the bus,” Mills said.
With two shower stalls, two separate entrances and hot water on-demand, the new mobile unit should speed up the showering process significantly. “On any given shelter night, with eight to a dozen people signed up on the list, it would take all night,” said Mills, who moonlights at OVFS while working full-time as circulation manager for the Ojai Valley News.
Conversion work on the bus is set to start Oct. 1, with completion by Dec. 1, when the shelter opens for the winter season.
Due to the pandemic, the shelter’s major fundraiser, a golf tournament, won’t be happening this year, so it’s seeking donations to pay for the conversion work. It has also applied for a grant.
For more information on volunteering at the shelter or making donations, visit www.ovfs.org.