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The project is intended to serve homeless people in western Washington County.

COURTESY PHOTO: COMMUNITY CONNECTION WEST - Jeff Shapiro, left, and Steve Parr, right, measure out components of the shower trailer they are building.

Work is progressing on a mobile shower facility for homeless people in the Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Cornelius area.

Jeff Shapiro and Steve Parr are building two shower stalls to mount on a trailer. The trailer, which sports its own tanks for freshwater and graywater, can be parked and hooked up to a water system.

Since construction began this spring, the shower trailer has been starting to take shape. The trailer itself has been delivered, custom-built by MCI Welding in Oregon City. With Shapiro's help, Parr has taken the lead on building the showers.

"Everyone deserves a warm place to sleep, food to eat and a means to clean themselves," Parr said, according to Shapiro. "It's the right thing to do."

"We often take bathing for granted," Shapiro remarked. "Do you recall how you felt after three days of camping or backpacking without access to a shower? The first thing on your mind was probably bathing. How about a long day of handyman work with dirt and sweat stuck to your skin?"

Shapiro noted that many people who are homeless have jobs, but they still can't afford a place of their own to live. Homeless shelter guests in Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Cornelius may get up in the morning, get on the bus and go straight to work.

But showers accessible to the homeless are hard to come by in western Washington County. At the Forest Grove City Aquatic Center, free showers are only offered during the winter months, and only on certain afternoons, when many people may be at work. Open Door Counseling Center, which operates a day shelter in between Cornelius and Hillsboro, has an aging facility and limited shower capacity.

"Thirty-seven percent of our shelter clients work the following day," Shapiro said. "I shower at night. I have for years. A lot of people shower in the morning. But imagine not being able to do that, and then you go into work."

He added, "After a shower, people tend to feel physically clean and mentally refreshed. Renewed, ready for another day. After three days, most people are really looking forward to a shower. How would you feel after a week of not showering?"

When they started work on the shower trailer, Shapiro and Brian Schimmel, who founded the nonprofit coalition Community Connection West in 2017, set a fundraising goal of about $26,400. So far, they've raised almost $19,000, including in-kind donations. That still leaves them with more than $7,000 to raise.

"We have not raised a great deal of local support from business or the community," Shapiro admitted. He is hoping that changes.

There are exceptions, of course. Shapiro singled out the generosity of local businesses like Miracle Sign Co. and Ace Hardware in Forest Grove — which are providing free signage and supplies for the shower trailer — as well as Lowe's in Hillsboro, Curtis Trailers in Aloha and Caughlans Commercial Floor Covering in Portland.

While Shapiro and Parr are trying to do as much of the work themselves as they can, they are grateful for the expertise of A&J Electric in Forest Grove and Columbia Contracting Services in Sandy, which are offering "oversight" of the electrical and plumbing work on the trailer to ensure it is of professional quality.

Shapiro and his wife, Julie Grandstaff, and their friends and family have put up $8,500 of their own money for the project. The City of Forest Grove and the regional government Metro have also provided a $6,600 grant, helping to close the gap considerably.

"The whole intent was to build it here, as much as we can," Shapiro said, "because we're going to use it here."

Shapiro, Parr and Schimmel hope to have the shower trailer finished and ready to serve the homeless community by the time the cold-weather shelter season starts in western Washington County.

Churches in Forest Grove and Cornelius partner to provide shelter for a combined four nights per week, from late November through March. The Shelter at Orenco Station, or SOS, also provides bed space in Hillsboro from December through February.

Given the number of western Washington County residents who are homeless, Shapiro said he doesn't know if one shower trailer will be enough to meet their needs.

According to Schimmel, the trailer is planned to provide at least 40 showers per week year-round. But it's not uncommon for a cold-weather shelter in Forest Grove alone to have upward of 20 guests on a given night.

"I think — as difficult as it is to raise funds for one — I think one's a good start," Shapiro said.

Anyone interested in donating to complete the shower trailer can visit communityconnectionwest.org. There is a large pink "donate" button in the upper right-hand corner of the website, and a secure site for donations to be made.

The shower trailer is just one of several projects that Community Connection is working on.

Schimmel has been leading a work group that includes community leaders and advocates to discuss ways to tackle homelessness in western Washington County. He's also involved with a summer meals program and a partnership to furnish the apartments of low-income families.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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