After three short years, AHHA has decided to end its Shower Care-A-Van program. Photo: Nezzie Wade

Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives (AHHA) recently made the difficult decision to retire its Shower Care-A-Van and pop-up care program at the end of this year to focus on the organization’s guiding principle: creating housing opportunities for Humboldt County’s most vulnerable.

“We have to put our focus on creating some alternative housing projects where people can be safe, warm and dry instead of continually being pushed to the margins,” AHHA Co-founder and President Nezzie Wade told the Outpost in a recent interview. “We have to do something more and we just don’t see that the low-income housing projects that are getting built are going to be able to be accessed by the people that we serve. We’re looking at the folks who always fall into the gap.”

For years, AHHA has urged the county and the City of Eureka to take a more proactive and innovative approach to affordable housing development through the creation of sanctioned encampments and tiny house villages. The county agreed to incorporate these suggestions into its revised housing element in August 2019 but Wade said “it will be a long time before any ordinances are passed” to move the plan forward.

Looking for another way to offer support, AHHA launched its Shower Care-A-Van, a three-stall ADA-compliant mobile hygiene trailer unit, in November 2019 to provide homeless community members with free access to hot showers and haircuts, along with resources and services to help them get back on their feet.

“Morally, we couldn’t leave people out there with no support or alternatives,” Wade said. “We’ve done a lot of basic health care for people because we’ve been able to bring resources directly to them. …And then COVID hit and we thought, ‘This is more [necessary] than ever.’”

And for the next three years, the Shower Care-A-Van and its volunteers traversed between Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville and Redway, serving hundreds – or likely thousands – of residents. But even with all of its benefits, Wade said the program only underscored the fact “that people don’t have what they need.”

The decision to discontinue the beloved program did not come easy.

“It’s a very hard thing to do,” Wade continued. “It’s been a wonderful experience for the communities that we serve. … But we are discontinuing the project so we can put our resources and all of our efforts into actually creating some alternatives that will [provide] people with stable places to be.”

Fortunately, AHHA has coordinated with the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation to ensure Eureka’s homeless residents have regular access to free showers located inside St. Vincent de Paul’s dining facility.

“Nezzie called me and said they were going to close down their shower [program], so we’re going to open our showers Monday through Friday,” Betty Chinn told the Outpost. “We also serve breakfast.”

Chinn is also working on a grant application with the City of Eureka to bring a portable shower trailer to Betty’s Blue Angel Village

Arcata House Partnership is hoping to offer showers through the Annex in the near future, Wade said. The McKinleyville Family Resources Center is hoping to do the same.

As AHHA shifts focus back to housing efforts, Wade is looking for local groups and individuals that can help the organization find available property and finance communal housing projects.

“We really are reliant on community support,” she said. “We’re looking for people who will help us build our capacity and regenerate that focus on housing. We’re looking to build our committee structure and our board, but we are also looking for people who would like to invest in a project. That is really essential.”

AHHA volunteers pose with a variety of donated shoes at a recent care pop-up event. Photo: Nezzie Wade