‘Shower Power’: Woman converts food truck into mobile shower unit for homeless
Wilton Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger Teresa Renkenberger of Flowood, Miss., describes the inspiration for her Shower Power Mobile Shower Unit for the homeless. Kevin Poe, of Florence, background, converted the food truck to a mobile shower unit. The two were in Jackson on Dec. 5, 2019, where she makes the mobile shower available weekly.
Instead of sandwiches, two separate shower stalls come into view.
Known as the Shower Power Mobile Shower Unit, the vehicle, complete with a new paint job of blue bubbles, includes a privacy door, hot and cold water, body soap, shampoo, a sink and a mirror.
The Flowood Realtor has started making the unit available to those who are homeless, offering free hot showers.
For now, she makes her weekly stop to a park in downtown Jackson on Mondays, but she hopes to increase the frequency and travel to other areas.
“They are honestly just like us, but they got down on their luck,” says Renkenberger, 51. “A lot of them don’t wake up and say they want to be homeless. It makes you think it could be me or you but, by the grace of God, it is not.”
‘I’ve been almost homeless; I’ve been where I could not afford anything’
Renkenberger herself recalls that as a child, she and her mother, a waitress, lived with friends for a long period of time after her parents divorced.
“If it were not for those people, I am 100% sure we would have been in a shelter or homeless,” Renkenberger said.
“That’s why I never look down on anyone, and I am always humble. I cannot save the world, but I can cast a stone and make many ripples.”
Renkenberger said her role as a Realtor allows her to better understand those who are homeless.
“It does not matter what size house you buy; I get on everybody’s level because I’ve been in everybody’s role,” Renkenberger said.
“I’ve been almost homeless; I’ve been where I could not afford anything. So I think I’ve done well in getting the homeless to trust me, because I can relate to where they are in their life right now.”
Renkenberger has never been involved in any kind of organized effort to help the homeless before getting the mobile shower off the ground.
“I’ve kind of always did my own thing,” she said. “I’ve always offered them something to eat and a bottle of water if I see any of them at a stop sign. If I don’t have a bottle of water or food, better believe I am going to give them some money. I just can’t imagine them sitting there with nobody.”
“After spending a lot of time with a homeless person who became my friend, I asked: ‘Benny, how long has it been since you’ve had a shower?’ His response: ‘A year, Ms. Teresa.’ When I left Benny that day, my mind was racing. Walking up the steps to our house, the idea hit me of the need for a mobile shower unit! So the process started right away.
“I went back a few days later to visit Benny and told him my idea. He was so happy. He said, ‘More than food, I need a shower.'”
She adds that visits to shelters don’t always mean access to a shower.
“Everything was quick,” Renkenberger explains. “I had the idea, bought a used truck and needed someone to build the showers.”
She met Kevin Poe, 46, who stepped up to do just that.
“Whatever she needs, I have been extremely grateful to help,” Poe said.
After the shower: ‘I cannot tell you how good I feel’
When Renkenberger brings her mobile shower unit to Smith Park in Jackson, she also provides towels and hygiene items.
She offers hugs, but doesn’t pry.
“I don’t want them to be scared,” Renkenberger said.
Showers are limited to 15 minutes if there is a line; otherwise, there is no time limit.
“When you first see them, they look embarrassed,” Renkenberger said. “When they get out the shower, they are totally different from when they got in.”
Shellie Pickering, 47, of Jackson, was one of the first to use the mobile shower. She battled depression and anxiety and relied on friends for an opportunity to take a shower.
“When you get to a place where you don’t have a roof over your head, you get to a place where you don’t trust anyone. So, meeting Teresa and getting a bath was an experience like day and night,” she said.
The shower, she adds, came just after she had received a Thanksgiving meal.
“Knowing that you need one is a little embarrassing, and it is a pride issue,” Pickering said. “But her vibe, her hugs, the smile on her face when she meets you, it’s like a bonding experience.”
“A lot of people would be standoffish, but she treats you like a friend,” Pickering said of Renkenberger. “She gives you hope and reminds you that some people still have a heart in this world.”
Renkenberger understands. She recalls one particular man who wouldn’t make eye contact.
“He looked straight down; he was dirty, gloomy and I did not get to welcome him how I wanted to,” Renkenberger said.
The man showered for 40 minutes. When he got out, he was totally different, she said.
“His eyes were bright, he was smiling and he was like, ‘I cannot tell you how good I feel,'” Renkenberger said, holding back tears.
“We gave him clothes, and it’s moments like these that remind you, this is why I did this. It was very humbling.”
Renkenberger also recalls a woman who had been employed for 32 years as a cashier at a convenience store.
“She always knew she was a couple of paychecks away if something happened, and she would not know what to do if she became homeless,” Renkenberger said.
After she took a shower, Renkenberger said, she began to open up more about her struggles.