Mark Lytal isn’t one to take a hot shower for granted. He never forgot his 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, when deployment would often mean long stretches of time without running water and nothing but baby wipes to keep himself clean. His experience eventually motivated him to create a volunteer-led organization that provides hot showers and hygiene products to folks experiencing homelessness. To date, he’s helped thousands of people stay safe, clean, and hopeful.
For this holiday season we’ll be focusing on 5 GoFundMe Causes, and you’ll meet some Heroes who are doing amazing work within those spaces. Today you’ll meet Mark Lytal who is a part of our Basic Necessities cause. Learn more about this GoFundMe Cause here.
Volunteer work has always been an integral part of Mark’s life. For years, he’s been involved with a volunteer program through his church that offers hot meals and warm beds to the unhoused community in Sacramento, California. Through his time volunteering, Mark got to know some of the people who benefitted from the program, and he learned that one of the biggest challenges they face is a lack of access to clean, running water.
Thinking back to his time in the Air Force, Mark knew how difficult it was to live day-to-day without running water, and he couldn’t bear the thought of so many people enduring that hardship in his own city. He began thinking of ways he could help, and before long, he landed on an ingenious solution.
Working with churches around Sacramento, Mark was able to locate and borrow a trailer equipped with several individual shower rooms. Each week, he towed the trailer to about four different churches, where people experiencing homelessness could use the mobile showers—free of charge.
“You don’t really realize how much you miss a shower until you don’t have it,” he says. “With the trailer, they could take a shower and start their week nice and clean.”
The mobile showers were a huge success, and the demand for them quickly grew.
But then COVID-19 hit, and nearly all public establishments closed. Suddenly, life became much more difficult for those living on the streets—and hygiene, especially, became even more critical.
“We needed clean places to wash hands and things like that, so I volunteered to offset emergency services,” says Mark. “I told them, ‘Hey, I’ve got this hot water, I’ve got soap, and I’ve got sinks. Let me be helpful.’”
So Mark parked the trailer in his church’s parking lot and volunteered there seven days a week, helping as many folks as he could. His solo mission grew into a small crew of volunteers, who helped make an even bigger impact. On some days, they prepared and served 500 lunches and offered between 60 and 80 showers. He named the organization SHOW UP, which is short for “Shower on Wheels for Unhoused Patrons.”
Today, SHOW UP continues to provide essential services for people in need. With each shower, patrons receive a hygiene kit with a razor, shaving cream, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and other essentials. They’re also given a clean pair of underwear, socks, and clothing, if available, because Mark never wants anyone to have to dress in dirty clothing after their shower.
It’s a simple formula with a powerful payoff. Mark recalls a time when a young woman in her early twenties used the portable shower and was beyond grateful.
“She came out 10 minutes later and opened up the door and just stood there crying,” he says. “I asked her if she was okay, but she couldn’t even speak. I politely asked, ‘Do I need to call an ambulance?’ and she was shaking her head no. Then, finally, she gained her composure and told me it had been six months since she had gotten a shower. If that story doesn’t say it all, what does?”
In total, Mark estimates it costs about $8 for one person to shower. To balance the increasing need in the community and the cost of supplies, he turned to GoFundMe and created his own fundraiser. With every donation, he says he’s able to purchase more supplies for those most in need.
Due to the large population of unhoused folks in Sacramento, the demand for showers, food, and shelter is high. Mark continues to volunteer every day of the week to provide basic necessities to his community’s most vulnerable populations.
SHOW UP only has one trailer at the moment, but it’s currently working with several other organizations to acquire more trailers to meet a growing demand. Eventually, Mark and his team want to orchestrate a train-to-work program, through which they can offer work and learning opportunities to the folks they serve. The goal is to teach them valuable, transferable skills and provide a way for them to support themselves, all while helping others who are in a similar position.
“We can show the community that, together, we can help. We’re not going to solve the problem overnight, but we can make it a little bit easier for everybody,” Mark says. “As a community, we can come together and make it happen.”