Retired TTC bus to be retrofitted with a mobile shower unit for homeless

A Toronto woman has secured a TTC bus and wants to convert it into a mobile shower and laundry unit for the homeless.

Toronto woman wants to bring dignity back to the homeless population by providing hygiene services

This is the bus Deborah Daniel is hoping to retrofit into a mobile shower and laundry unit for homeless people around Toronto. (Felix Poon)

Deborah Daniel was sitting in the Toronto Reference Library getting some work done when she first noticed one of the biggest problems facing the city's homeless population.

The 43-year-old event planner observed many homeless people using the library's washrooms to clean up and cool down during the summer months. She was saddened by the lack of basic services. 

"I said, 'Wait a second. How can we expect people to get jobs and to help themselves and change the trajectory of their life if they're wearing the same clothes and shoes every day and they don't have access to a shower?'" Daniel told CBC Toronto.

What we can do is just something very simple as a bath to restore dignity.- Deborah Daniel

She soon got the idea to provide a simple service all-year-round, six days a week, that would make a small difference in the lives of homeless people — a mobile unit that provides a shower, a change of clothes and access to toiletries for those who need it. 

"I know that it cannot solve the housing crisis, but I mean, what we can do is just something very simple as a bath to restore dignity."

Similar initiatives in Australia and San Francisco

In late June, Daniel began researching ways to help homeless citizens and found that mobile showering units was an initiative that was popular in cities across Australia.

She began thinking about how to bring this idea to Toronto and found that a mobile showering service in San Francisco, Lava Mae, was using a retired bus to provide showering and toilet services for the homeless. 

So Daniel decided to ask the TTC in August for a retired bus and received a yes from the transit service. The TTC will be donating a bus in good running order, but that is not yet road certified, for Daniel's cause and she will be taking it to an undisclosed location to convert it. 

The TTC decides to donate

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green says each year the transit agency receives about two to five requests for a bus donation. The requests explain what the bus would be used for and the CEO approves or denies the requests.   

"We review every application that comes in, based on its own merit and the potential use for the vehicle obviously is a consideration. And this was one our CEO Andy Byford had no trouble approving," Green explained. 

We review every application that comes in, based on its own merit and the potential use for the vehicle obviously is a consideration.- Stuart Green, TTC Spokesperson

When buses reach the end of their use for the TTC, typically the transit service decommissions old buses or donates buses in running order without any TTC branding to initiatives that have submitted a request and have been approved.

The donated buses are not road certified when donated so all costs incurred including towing, fixing up the bus, getting it road certified and the retrofit will be the responsibility of Daniel. 

"There's definitely going to be additional costs, but just the fact that we have a starting point is great," Daniel said. 

'So many people are asking to donate'

Daniel hopes to have the service running by the end of May or early summer.

She wants to go into the areas of Toronto where homeless people are concentrated and park the bus for a few hours at a time before moving to the next location. From there, homeless people can use the bus to take a shower, get clean clothes and access toiletries. 

Daniel's idea has spread across Facebook and has received over 1,300 shares. She says people have offering to volunteer and provide their services. 

"People have reached out to me to offer grooming services like haircuts once a month, professional clothing, and job services," says Daniel. She has heard from engineers, contractors, and designers who want to assist with the retrofit.

She also hopes to provide some sort of job service through the mobile unit and is also looking into having a trailer with clean clothes and shoes. 

Daniel started a Facebook group to coordinate volunteers and fundraising initiatives to support the cause. She's also trying to make sure she gets in touch with the right companies for partnerships to support the project. 

"When I actually received the news confirming that we will have the bus, initially I thought about the funding. But now with the response that we've gotten, [funding] is the least of my worries. So many people are asking to donate," Daniel said. 

She says logistical issues like water supply and waste disposal will have to be solved. 

"I have no doubt now that we will get all the help that we need. It's just a matter of getting everyone together and making it happen."