Wintertime on the streets of Bellingham can be unforgiving. It can also be dirty.
Beth Ann Robinson is only able to shower twice a week at the homeless shelter if she's lucky.
"I like to be clean. I like to keep my nails clean, my body clean. I haven't had a shower in four days,” said Robinson. “It's not good. It doesn't feel right.”
Robinson has been homeless for three years. She hit the streets when her landlord raised her rent to more than she receives in social security. Add to that the indignity of not being able to wash, and it takes a toll.
"It gets depressing," Robinson said, wiping away a tear. "Your morals get shot down."
Now, however, Bellingham's Lighthouse Mission Ministries is opening the door to change all that. A $21,000 privately funded mobile shower unit is now up and operating.
"This is the starting place for somebody to begin that journey toward healing," said Executive Director Hans Erchinger-Davis. "It's a way to address underlying issues that are causing their homelessness."
The plan is to use hot showers to entice the homeless off the cold streets and then introduce them to services that can turn their lives around.
Erchinger-Davis says the showers will help prepare people for job interviews and reduce their impact on the community from emergency rooms to public bathrooms.
"It helps everything in a community. Being clean is being more healthy," said Erchinger-Davis. "Also, you don't have people having doing the bathroom at McDonald's shower."
Robinson’s face glowed as she left her 20-minute shower Wednesday afternoon, and so did her heart.
"God bless these people 100-fold. That's all I can say. I'm thankful for them,” she said.
Lighthouse Mission Ministries wants to expand the scope of the program. The group is looking to partner with churches and businesses across Whatcom County to allow more people to access showers.