Nashville is home to roughly 4,000 homeless men, women and children. Among them is Kenneth, an Army veteran who lives with his service dog in a tent near the Cumberland River.
Although Kenneth has access to food, drinking water and clothing, there is one resource he has gone without for up to seven weeks at a time — a shower. Those who have showers take them for granted, not realizing they are a luxury for people like Kenneth. In fact, fewer than a dozen showerheads are available for Nashville’s homeless population, and many are located far away or do not allow service animals.
Without access to showers and proper hygiene, many homeless people are unable to acquire a job that would help them escape the prison of poverty.
Helping the homeless
Paul Schmitz, who works in donor fundraising for a Christian fundraising ministry, was one of the few non-homeless people who recognized the plight of those without access to regular showers. Motivated by the Gospel message to love and care for “the least” of those among us, Schmitz has long been involved with helping the homeless.
“In 2016, I began looking for the ‘next’ need that wasn’t being met in the homeless community and realized it was showers and basic hygiene,” Schmitz recalls. “At that point, ShowerUp was born.”
After a successful fundraising effort in late 2016, Schmitz raised enough money to purchase a truck that would put his idea of a mobile shower station into practice. Three sink and shower units would be installed inside the truck that would serve the homeless for more than eight hours at a time. Water supply would come from a local fire hydrant, and drainage would flow into a storm sewer.
Of course, Schmitz knew that none of this would be possible without hot water. To that end, he placed an emphasis on finding the highest performing water heater possible.
From the start, Schmitz recognized that only one water heating solution would be practical for his application.
“Our truck does not have water storage capability, so a storage tank water heater wouldn’t have worked,” he explains. “Plus, its heavy weight and large size would have used a sizable amount of space. We had to go tankless.”
Lee Company, Schmitz’s general contractor, recommended a Noritz water heater.
“Noritz makes some of the most reliable, installer- and maintenance-friendly water heaters on the market,” says Robert Cox, manufacturing supervisor at Lee Company.
“We wanted a best-in-class water heater,” Schmitz says. “I’m never a fan of serving the homeless with second-rate products.”
Noritz donated an NRC98-DV propane-fired water heater that was installed inside the mobile shower station.
Schmitz calls hot water the “key element in ShowerUp’s goal of showing people love, compassion and care” and says it wouldn’t be possible without tankless water heater technology.
Since they don’t store water, tankless water heaters don’t constantly fire on and off; instead, they heat water precisely when needed, for as long as needed. This is particularly beneficial to Schmitz’s efforts, since he’s limited in the number of propane tanks he can transport at any one time.
“We have two propane tanks that power everything on board, including the generator, air conditioning and hot water heater,” he says. “I can attest that the water heater’s energy efficiency significantly contributes to our ability to run three showers at a time for up to 10 hours, along with everything else.”
Installer Cox echoes Schmitz’s estimation.
“We wouldn’t have been able to add a third propane tank to the bus, so the efficiency element was crucial,” Cox says.
Unlimited hot water
Most important for a mobile shower application is reliable access to hot water at all times.
“On-demand hot water is crucial to being able to provide uninterrupted, comfortable showers over the course of an entire day,” Schmitz emphasizes.
So simple, yet so necessary, a hot shower can make or break a person’s future. Schmitz illustrates this by citing an example of a homeless husband and wife who came to his showering unit.
“He and his wife came in one day for a shower. Not only did they leave happy and refreshed, but I found out they were able to get a job in hospitality the very next day. That’s the power of a shower.”
Schmitz’s goal is for this initiative to grow into the future, not only in Nashville, but in other cities as well.
“Ultimately, we want to rebuild dignity and hope in the homeless community and instill a feeling of being loved and cared for in each and every individual who showers with us,” he says.