Clean Slate

by Celia Shatzman

Growing up in New York City, Laura Fruitman saw her neighbors facing homelessness on a daily basis. She spent much of her childhood volunteering in shelters and soup kitchens.

“I remember a poignant interaction with a man who told me how living in New York City, with so many people around, he
felt invisible and alone, as people would walk past him on the streets avoiding eye contact,” she says. “This moment stuck with me and became the motivation behind The Right to Shower. The brand was built upon the belief that access to cleanliness is a fundamental human right, as is the feeling of dignity that comes with having a shower. We are a social enterprise committed to supporting organizations that are making showers available to our homeless neighbors.”

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness is on the rise for the first time since 2010. “When we think of people living on the streets, shelter and food are the most urgent needs that come to mind, but a lack of access to basic hygiene practices—like a shower—can have an immense impact,” Fruitman says. “The correlation between physical health and hygiene might be obvious but this lack of access also can impact mental health. It can directly compromise the sense of dignity of any of the 550,000 Americans experiencing homelessness on any given day. We’re working to change that.”

Fruitman, now cofounder and general manager of The Right to Shower, worked with Unilever to launch the personal care brand, featuring four body cleansers and four soaps. It is the first line from Unilever to be carried nationwide by Whole Foods. The company partnered with Lava Mae, the largest mobile shower organization in the U.S., to provide grants to other mobile shower entrepreneurs. Lava Mae has provided more than 58,000 showers to more than 15,000 people in California since its launch through its own units, and has also inspired more than 100 mobile hygiene services modeled after its own.

In 2019, The Right To Shower is donating 100 percent of profits to Lava Mae. Over the last year, it has also given direct financial support to similar organizations such as Project Outpour, Streetside Showers, Organization of Hope and Brooklyn Community Services. “These investments will help build additional mobile shower units and sustain operations in Charlotte, San Francisco, Dallas, Baltimore and Brooklyn, respectively,” Fruitman says. “The Right to Shower is donating 100 percent of profits through our partnership with Lava Mae to set the stage for our long-term goal of building a nationwide network of providers delivering regular, safe, free hygiene and well-being services to all those experiencing housing instability.”

“Homelessness is a complex issue, one that requires investments in prevention, housing and reintegration, along with resiliency services,” Fruitman says. “Showers alone won’t solve homelessness, but they can be a first step toward unlocking hope, dignity and opportunity for those living on the streets.”

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