She Turns Buses Into Mobile Showers for the Homeless

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Who am I?

My name is Doniece Sandoval, and I live in San Francisco, California. My 9-year-old daughter says that I’m a super hero for the homeless. I think I’m more like a terrier with a bone; I won’t let go when I know I’m on to something good.

What exactly do I do? 

I founded/lead an organization that converts public transportation buses into showers and toilets on wheels for people experiencing homelessness.

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Why does my work matter?

Because with hygiene comes dignity and with dignity opportunity. And, ultimately, opportunity is the key to moving through homelessness.

How did I end up doing this?

Homelessness is an issue I care deeply about – when I was 16 my family came close to losing everything, include the roof over our heads. So this is personal for me. Marry that with my love of finding creative solutions to problems and you have the background for what lead to Lava Mae.

 

What has been most challenging about this work?

Overcoming supply chain issues – from permit challenges to working with vendors to retrofit our buses. The service itself, though emotionally and physically taxing, is actually the easiest part of what we do. The gratitude and generosity of those we serve helps fuel our own resilience.

Have there been any personal transformative moments for me as a result of doing this?

Transformative moments happen nearly every time I’m out with one of our buses. People talk to us about how profound our service is in their lives. It’s been tremendously moving to see how something so simple – something most of us take for granted – can be so powerful in people’s lives.

Doing this work has also restored my optimism in the fate of the world. Bombarded by 24/7 headlines about disasters and scandals, it becomes easy to sink into a sense of despair about our future. But this work has brought me into the company of countless amazing people – including all of the Toyota Mother’s of Invention (I am also an honoree) – who are changing the world in big ways and small. It’s reaffirmed by belief that people are basically good and that they care – really care – and want to find ways to engage and make a difference.

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Where I am going with this project?

We’re deepening our work with a new program called Pop-Up Care Villages. The idea is that by bringing more services to the street, where people are, it will increase their access and speed their move through homelessness. We’re opening branches in the Bay Area; the first will be in San Jose, CA later this year. Our goal is to touch the lives of 30,000 Californians moving through homelessness by 2020.

What do I envision for the world?

In my pink sky world, compassion reigns. At Lava Mae, we define compassion as honoring another’s humanity. Hard to mistreat each other or hold tight to apathy if we achieve that.

Any advice for up-and-coming female social innovators?

I have two pieces of advice: 1) Remember that mistakes are only failures if you fail to learn from them, and 2) Embrace the power of “yes.” I think it was Warren Buffet who said that good entrepreneurs say ‘no’ more than they say yes, but I’ve found that yes has opened more doors and presented more opportunities than I could ever have imagined.

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