Homelessness is overwhelming. To deal with it is to know that every person living on the streets has encountered some of the hardest challenges life can throw. People on the street no longer have the means to care for themselves on more than one level. It’s overwhelming to consider the magnitude of this very real problem and multiple aspects that must go into making any difference in the lives of the homeless. However, it’s not important to have the whole solution at one moment. Taking steps in the right direction is the only way to accomplish anything.
Lava Mae has taken an aspect of the homelessness crisis and developed a solution that empowers every individual. Those with mental illness, those coming out of violent homes, and those with drug addictions are not left out of Lava Mae’s radical hospitality. In 2013, Lava Mae outfitted city buses with showers and toilets and traveled through the Bay Area providing hygiene, an often forgotten service, to individuals living on the streets. Because of their people-first approach, seen in the personalized care and attention they give to everyone they serve, they operate under a policy of radical hospitality. They consider each customer a guest, and they continue to amplify their impact with their new pop up care villages.
In order to survive on a day-to-day basis as an individual that is homeless, people end up spending a lot of time walking from place to place in order to get the next free meal or the next place to stay. There is a lot of time spent waiting in line for various services. After hearing the complaint that individuals “felt like they would never be clean again,” the founder of Lava Mae, Doniece Sandoval, decided to do what she could to tackle that problem.
Pop up care villages are one-day festivals where individuals can get everything they need at once to take care of their basic human needs. The villages have showers and toilets, as well as dental care, haircuts, acupuncture, art workshops, live music, and more. Lava Mae’s new online check in system eliminates the need to wait in lines, and organizes an appointment schedule instead. Instead of standing around waiting, everyone sits at a table. The focus is on community building and personal well-being.
“Pop up villages are inspired by Maslow’s Need Hierarchy pyramid,” said Priyam Joshi, Community Engagement Manager at Lava Mae. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Pyramid is the theory that certain needs take precedence over others. If a person has to worry about whether they will be able to eat at all that day, then they can’t focus on looking for jobs or saving money. Lava Mae’s pop up villages are designed to restore a sense of dignity to individuals moving through homelessness so that they have the ability to focus on more than the here and now.
It is also important to the people at Lava Mae that they address more than the physical needs of their guests. They take the time to get to know each guest personally, and every volunteer that works with them has endless stories about the joy they have experienced through their interactions with guests at the Pop Up Care Villages. One guest in particular, Randy, is a moving success story for Lava Mae. Randy was one of the first individuals to utilize Lava Mae’s early services. “He has such a great sense of humor, he gives a big hug to someone when you meet him for the first time,” said Joshi. A few years after Randy first interacted with Lava Mae, he is now a regular volunteer and is able to give back to the company that helped him out so long ago.
Joshi discussed playing a game of chess with another guest and engaging in an especially meaningful conversation. “Through the game of chess we were actually unraveling our lives,” said Joshi. “We focus on having raw human interactions and removing that they are on the street and I am housed.”
“The whole aspect of community building has a huge impact on the state of someone that’s experiencing homelessness,” said Joshi. They have served more than 13 hundred individuals, and have focused on the humanity of each and every one of their guests. Lava Mae doesn’t let the magnitude of the problem stop them from doing what they can to help every individual move forward in their lives.
Blog | deborahspotlight.com | June 2017
Author | Emma Franke
Lave Mae | http://lavamae.org
Priyam Joshi | Community Engagement
Video Link | https://youtu.be/jT-nhBVxrqA