For Minister-Turned-Portable Sanitation Professional Lance Olinski, Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

Texas-based Streetside Showers aims to help the homeless lead a life with dignity.

For Minister-Turned-Portable Sanitation Professional Lance Olinski, Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

Streetside Showers graywater disposal is completed at an area RV park that provides a discount on dumping and propane refilling.

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THE TEAM

In 2017, when Lance Olinski saw a homeless man washing up in a public restroom in McKinney, Texas, the accountant and ordained minister was touched. “It just gripped my heart,” he says. “I had a lot of compassion for him.” Determined to do something to help people in need, he founded a nonprofit public charity corporation, Streetside Showers, and started providing mobile showers for the homeless.

Currently Olinski wears all hats, from truck driver to website designer, but does have a part-time administrative assistant, Hannah Couch, a legally required three-member board of directors to help with governance, and a slew of volunteers. His family is also very involved. His wife, Shannon, helps with office functions and equipment maintenance. Their children help at sock-rolling parties — Seth (24) and his wife, Jess; Aimee Daily (22) and her husband, Aidan; Claire (19) who also does their social media; Chloe (16); and Julie (7) who stuffs hygiene bags.

COMPANY HISTORY

Olinski got started by Googling “mobile showers” and found an organization in California providing showers for the homeless, Lava Mae. He spent a week with them, then researched manufacturers, did some fundraising, and in May 2017 bought a Forest River two-stall shower/restroom combo. The next month on a Sunday evening, using their donated 2000 Lincoln Navigator, he took the trailer to the parking lot at Vintage Church in downtown McKinney and opened the doors.

The unit attracted media attention, which led to other communities contacting Olinski expressing interest. That’s when he had to make a decision about his career and the direction of the company. He left his accounting job, did more fundraising and expanded to two other communities. By March 2018 he purchased a 2005 Ford Excursion and a Comforts of Home Services three-stall shower/restroom combo with ADA-compliant accessibility.

MAIN EVENT

The homeless typically live in the woods or in their cars, Olinski says, and 54% have jobs. “They are working; they just can’t get the sustainable income to have a house or apartment. Housing has just become so expensive.” By providing showers, he is trying to restore dignity and give them hope.

The two-stall trailer is used on Sundays in McKinney. The large trailer is used Tuesdays and Fridays in Denton at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church (which houses a soup kitchen) and Wednesdays in Plano at the Collin County Assistance Center. Monday Olinski does maintenance, Thursday fundraising and office work — and Saturday is occasionally a day off. They only close when it’s below freezing.

Guests, as he calls them, sign up on a first-come, first-served basis and are given a towel, washcloth, soap, shampoo, razor and other hygiene products. “Then we give everybody four or five pairs of fresh socks and one or two pairs of underwear,” Olinski says. Three or four volunteers help. They work about four hours, but it’s a full day considering time for driving, setup, cleanup and disposal.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS

The company relies on donations for expenses (which include a modest salary for Olinski). Olinski talks with churches, clubs and community organizations and also uses social media. “People assemble their groups — women’s group, bible study, Boy Scouts — and really come together to help me with all my supplies.” He also likes to have fun with it. For a town parade, they decorated one of the trailers and he and a few friends dressed in Star Wars costumes and walked along with it.

“I’m a Star Wars nerd,” he admits. “I’m a member of the 501st Legion, which is the premier Star Wars costume club around the world. It was really cool and created a lot of buzz. I’m always looking for the wow factor. It helps people know who we are and helps me raise money.”

Corporate partners include apparel company Bombas, which supplied 1,000 pairs of socks in 2018 with a promise of 5,000 for 2019, and Unilever, which provides hygiene products as part of its Right to Shower initiative. The First Baptist Church of McKinney donates parking spaces for equipment storage. Hosting locations pay for water. Licensed hair stylists often show up to give haircuts (217 in 2018). Designhill designed their logo, and a friend vinyl-wrapped the trailers for a classy look.

“I want us to look good in the community,” Olinski says. “We’re a professional shower service not a hodgepodge organization. We have beautiful trailers. I want people to know we’re serious.”

VOLUNTEERS

Volunteers are critical to the success of the operation. They come from everywhere, including the community service list used by judges to dispense community service sentences for traffic offenders. Olinski plans to create training videos, but right now it’s on-the-job training to learn how to clean showers and communicate with guests.

Volunteers also learn how to handle difficult situations. They haven’t had any serious problems but occasionally see people who struggle with addictions or show up edgy or bad tempered. Olinski’s solution is simple.

“We get them a shower as quick as we can,” he says. “That does the trick. It’s amazing. They come out a different person.” If someone wants to talk or vent, Olinski tells volunteers to just listen.

Olinski believes the benefits of volunteering go both ways. He tells his volunteers they’ll never take a shower for granted again and their world will be a lot bigger because they’ll really start seeing people in their community.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

Volunteers do a quick wipe down after every shower with Vital Oxide, a nonchlorine hospital-grade disinfectant. Once or twice a month, Olinski does deep cleaning using an iSiLER industrial-grade steam cleaner and CLR lime remover. He uses RID-X septic system cleaner additive and Camco TST toilet treatment packets in the waste tanks. Disposal is at nearby RV parks.

They spend about $50 a week to launder towels. In Denton, however, towels are donated and laundered by Embassy Suites hotel. “A high-end hotel, if there’s any spot or blemish on a towel, they can’t reuse it,” Olinski explains. “So, I approached them and asked if they’d consider donating them. They’re thrilled the towels are getting used, and they feel like they’re getting back in the community.”

WIDE-OPEN FUTURE

The company provided 559 showers in 2017 and 2,600 in 2018. Olinski offers a word of advice: The homeless need a lot of things, but don’t try to do everything because you can’t. He doesn’t do laundering, provide clothes or offer job counseling. “I call it staying in my lane,” he says. “I try to do one thing — hygiene — really well.”

In the near future Olinski hopes to hire drivers and service more locations. He’s also looking into less expensive alternatives to shower trailers and is testing out free-standing Satellite | PolyPortables single-unit showers. And he’s coaching others who have expressed interest in starting similar companies, including a friend in Florida who wants to open up a Streetside branch office.

Olinski’s labor of love has impacted many lives. “When I ask people, how the shower was, a very common response is ‘I feel human again. I feel like a million bucks.’ It’s amazing what a shower does. And it’s such a simple thing.”



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