Group offers a hot shower, meal, clothes and necessities, helping unhoused people wash away the grime of the streets
By JOAN MORRIS | Bay Area News Group
Jimmy Burris never thought he’d be homeless. A cascade of bad decisions mixed with bad luck meant he became one of thousands of people who live on the streets, unable to look any farther than surviving for another day.
The Antioch native, born into a well-known and respected family, spent a short time in the military before being booted out. He married, had six children and traveled around, but after returning to Antioch to help his ailing mother, he found himself living in his car.
Burris spent his time wandering from one handout to another, until he met Ken Rickner, who was offering more than a weekly sermon and meal. With a towel and some soap, Rickner gave him back his dignity.
Things others might take for granted become magnified when you’re living on the streets, uncertain of your next meal and whether the place you slept last night will be safe tonight.
Rickner, who has experienced homelessness himself, started ShowerHouse Ministries in 2018, offering showers, food, clean clothing and a message of faith to a growing flock. Rickner fully believes he was called by God to create the ministry, but it started with a simple idea.
While he was living on the streets, the one thing Rickner says he desired more than anything was to wash away the grime of that life, to have people see him not as this dirty creature grubbing on the streets, but as a human being. He wanted to wash his body and hair, change his clothes and not have to smell his own stink. He wanted to be clean.
“Back in 2010, I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit at church,” Rickner says, “and two days later I started doing outreach with a friend who’d been doing it. I never had a desire to do it before.”
Rickner sought out unhoused people, telling them his own story, listening to theirs and praying for a way to help others. He thought about how he had felt — “greasy, oily, never clean” — and one day, he had a vision of a white trailer and heard the words “ShowerHouse Ministries.”
“I told my friend, ‘I think I’m supposed to build a trailer.’”
For months, he prayed to find a way.
“I’d see houses that were being foreclosed on and think, ‘We could turn that one into a showerhouse,’” Rickner said. “But it was just too big a project, and I couldn’t figure it out. It was overwhelming, so I let it go.”
Then one day, he was reminded of his dream and destiny when he gave a ride to a hitchhiker and was hit by a powerful aroma wafting from the man.
“He stunk to high heaven,” Rickner said, “and I heard God say, ‘Does that remind you of anything?’ The showers!”
Rickner realized that while it was a daunting task, if he could do it one step at a time, he could achieve his goal. He started by finding a trailer, one that had been damaged in an accident, but that could be rebuilt. He sold his car to pay for shower stalls. Then he found someone willing to sell him a water pump and heater, and volunteers who knew how to install it. The obstacles began to fall away, and in 2015, he opened ShowerHouse Ministries.
Those in need of a shower, food, spirituality or just a place to be, show up at midday every Saturday. Rickner offers words of faith and hope, food is served and those who want to can partake of a shower. The city of Antioch provides a water connection, so Rickner no longer has to limit showers to three minutes each.
When ShowerHouse Ministries first opened, it welcomed 40 to 50 people each week. Now many of them have gotten back on their feet and found housing, but they often show up on Saturdays to volunteer.
Although Burris still lives out of his car, he’s one of those who volunteers his time. The ministry has meant everything to him, he says.
“A shower doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people, but it does to me,” he says. “Being clean means a lot. It makes me feel like I’m worth something. Kenny is a great guy. He talks about love, peace and kindness. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and a lot of people really count on Kenny.”
Through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit campaign, which highlights worthy nonprofit agencies working to help the most vulnerable in our communities, ShowerHouse Ministries is hoping to raise $7,000 to help people like Burris and others by paying for the operation of the showers, supplying hygiene kits and clean clothes, and helping with other needs that arise.
“All monies will be used to put gas in the truck, fill propane tanks for the showers and cooking,” Rickner says, “(to) help purchase food and keep us supplied with shampoos, cream rinse, hygiene products, such as deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, feminine products, razor blades, socks and underwear. Most clothing is donated, but we sometimes purchase them as well, if needed.”
Rickner also plans to purchase tents and sleeping bags, tarps, ponchos for the winter months, beanies, gloves, disinfectant for the showers, and laundry detergent and bleach to keep the towels clean.
“We see people who look like they just crawled out from under a rock,” Rickner says. “They get a hot shower, get a hot meal, and they come out looking like brand new person. They’re all smiles, even if it’s just for that afternoon.
“We shuffle them all through, and pray for them all,” he says. “We’re seeing lives changed.”
How to Help
Donations will help ShowerHouse Ministries pay for operating the showers, supplying items for hygiene kits and clean clothes, purchasing food and putting gas in the truck and filling propane tanks for hot water and cooking.
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