Holy water: When a shower is a sacred thing

Byron's Lens: Stories that matter

“He was just a different person because he felt clean again.”

Lance Olinski is telling me about one of his recent “customers.” We’re standing at the corner of 18th and H street in Plano, in front of a small trailer with ‘StreetsideShowers’ on its side.

“He came out of the shower and he looked at me and he just said ‘Thank You,’” Olinski says.

StreetsideShowers is a fledgling charity that started in a sink. Lance Olinski, an ordained minister, was in a public restroom in Collin County last year when he saw a man giving himself what amounted to a bath in a wash basin.

“I just really wanted to help him out, and I was very limited to what I could accomplish. I started talking to people to find out what I could do,” he says. “We don’t have emergency shelters here in Collin County.” 

He touched base with the Collin County Homeless Commission and the Salvation Army and learned that in California several cities have portable showers where homeless people can bathe.

He went to California, studied how the showers operated, and after raising $22,000 from local donors in Collin County, bought a two-unit system in Elkhart, Indiana. Each of the two shower rooms has a toilet, a small changing area, and a shower. 

All Olinski needs is a water hose, and an electric plug, (although he can use his own portable generator), and he’s in business. He makes a combined three stops a week in Plano and McKinney.

Since June, StreetsideShowers has been serving the homeless in McKinney and Plano. Most customers haven’t had a shower in days, sometimes weeks. Each receives a clean washcloth and towel, and a clean pair of socks and new underwear. “A lot of folks don’t have a change of clothes,” he notes. Olinski also provides a ziplock bag full of toiletries for them to take with them.

Most amazing, Olinski, a grandfather with two grown children and three still at home, is doing this all on his own. He maintains the trailer (with the help of some volunteers), collects the toiletries and washes the towels with donations. “We live tight,” he says of his family and Shannon, his wife of twenty-six years. He takes a small amount to live on from donations, which come from individuals and churches in the community.

StreetsideShowers recently received 501c3 status as a charitable organization from the IRS. Olinsky’s hope is to expand into Dallas County, beginning with regular hours for homeless people to shower at the Dallas Public Library. To serve that many clients, he hopes to buy a three-unit trailer, which would cost $44,000.

Olinski cherishes a gift one of his clients brought him after his first visit to StreetsideShowers. He hadn’t had a shower for three weeks, and for his no-strings-attached bath, the client wanted Olinski to have something to remember him by. Now the cross rides with shower man in his front seat.

Byron Harris, a 40-year reporter for WFAA-TV, writes Byron’s Lens.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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