|Henry Penner inside the one of the showers of his mobile trailer. Patrick Penner photo.|
Henry Penner used to think homelessness issues could be placed at the feet of those living on the street. But his views have shifted significantly over the years and now he volunteers his time to get those feet clean.
Penner, and the King Road Mennonite Brethren Church, have been operating Canada’s only mobile shower trailer for people who are homeless since May 1. Refresh Mobile Showers runs services at two locations in Abbotsford and has provided more than 550 showers as of Dec. 12.
The idea came to Penner after watching a video of a man in Missouri who was offering a similar service. The video sparked something in him and caused him to spend several “sleepless nights wrestling with the idea.”
“To tell you the truth, I fought it in my mind … before the Lord told me that this is what I needed to do. First I thought, ‘Great idea, but let somebody else do it. Kudos to them,’” he said.
He said he decided to pursue the project after receiving encouragement from his friends, church, Abbotsford’s mayor and the Homeless Action Advisory Committee.
“Everyone said, ‘Don’t give up. Go for it!’ And that kept me going.”
Penner was recognized for his efforts by Mayor Henry Braun at the fifth annual Mayor’s Breakfast on May 22.
“[He] saw the homeless in our community and wanted to show love and respect for them by helping out in some practical way,” Braun said. “Henry’s perseverance, attention to detail, willingness to share his passion and [to] collaborate paid off.”
Penner and his church started fundraising in the spring of 2017 and were able to raise $35,000 in five months – enough to buy the trailer and start operations.
|The Refresh Mobile Showers trailer outside of the Mennonite Central Committee building on Dec. 13. Patrick Penner photo.|
The trailer itself has two showers, a propane-heated 225-gallon freshwater tank and 350-gallon gray water tank, and it’s capable of being completely self-sufficient.
Similar trailers exist on construction sites and movie sets, but none in Canada exist as a service exclusively for people who are homeless.
“I’ve done a lot of research and I have not found a single one,” Penner said. “There’s someone in Ontario that is trying to get something set up but haven’t done so yet.”
Only four people arrived on Refresh Mobile Showers’ first day in operation in May, but now they average over a dozen each time they set up.
The trailer sets up at 5 p.m. at Bakerview Church on Wednesdays, the Mennonite Central Committee at 4 p.m. on Thursdays, and every Monday at Gateway Community Church at 7:30 p.m. once their extreme-weather shelter opens in winter.
Penner said he initially had a lot of requests to go to Langley, Mission and Chilliwack but couldn’t accommodate those requests as Refresh Mobile Showers is operated entirely by volunteers.
“I’ve turned them down at this point. I’m willing to work with somebody who’s built their own initiative, but to spread ourselves thin is not apart of our game plan right now.”
While the trailer has been paid for, Refresh Mobile Showers still needs donations to maintain its operations and is always looking for new partners: kingroad.ca/refresh-mobile-showers.