Homelessness And Personal Hygiene

Posted: November 24, 2009 in Children, Health, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Poverty, Self Esteem

Folks find their way here, to this blog, via a wide range of methods: search engines, referring links, bookmarks, RSS feeds, and etcetera.

I view it an honor and privilege when folks take the time to read anything I’ve written. But, it pleases me when someone uses the search widget in the side column because it indicates that they have a further interest in finding out a little bit more about homeless, or because they have a specific question they are seeking an answer to.

Yesterday, one person searched the site using the question: "Where do the homeless bathe?"

That is actually quite an astute question – one which deserves an answer.  

For most Americans, personal hygiene is simply a matter of walking into their bathroom and engaging in "washing up" and getting clean. Most of the time, folks don’t really stop to think about it. It’s just a part of their daily routine.

For the homeless, personal hygiene comes with its own set of struggles.

Some homeless will utilize the bathing facilities of a local homeless shelter or a homeless day center – if their town has either. However, having access to a shelter doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they will be able to bathe on any given day due to the numbers of folks who may want to clean up. There are just so many resources to go around, and only so many hours in a day.

Then there are those homeless who – for whatever reason – may not have access to a shelter or day center.

There are, for example, some cities which have "winter shelters" only.

These types of shelters are "open for business" only during the winter months. This means that throughout the rest of the year, the homeless are left to fend for themselves.

In such cases, the homeless must seek alternate places to "bathe."

For those homeless who are fortunate enough to have some form of income, memberships to health clubs or gyms will give them access to showers.

However, not every homeless person may be able to afford those memberships – and again, alternative locations are used.

Generally, these alternate places are public bathrooms in city parks, bus or train stations, truck stops, government buildings, fast food restaurants, and even airports.

If the person is geographically located near to "open" water – such as a stream, river or lake… well, you get the idea.

In addition, there are some homeless who may set up some type of "campers shower."

For women who are homeless, there is an additional burden to personal hygiene: their menstrual cycle.

Although I’ve met a number of women who have experienced homelessness, out of respect (and to avoid causing embarrassment to anyone) I’ve never made an inquiry as to how women handle such matters while homeless. However, I imagine that it cannot be easy.

Families with children – especially if the children still require diapers – also face extra challenges.

Yes, there are some shelters and other charitable organizations which will provide disposable diapers to families that have toddlers. However, resources are finite. Consequently, families face the possibility that homeless support services agencies may not be able to assist them.

The freedom and relative ease of maintaining their personal hygiene is something which most Americans – regardless of how busy their lives may be – take for granted.

For America’s homeless, a desire for cleanliness is besieged by struggle and social indignities.

As I said up top: For most Americans, personal hygiene is simply a matter of walking into their bathroom and "washing up."

Conversely, the homeless are required to take numerous "additional steps" to achieve what most Americans do in one or two steps.

Where do the homeless bathe?

Wherever they can.

  1. Matt says:

    Excellent piece Michael and an important topic. Of course, many of the housed population will believe the answer to the question to be simply, “They don’t.” This serves well to highlight that a significant proportion of persons experiencing homelessness often make a much bigger effort than average to maintain personal hygiene. Nicely done.

  2. Skye says:

    I’ve often thought about what it would be like to be homeless as a woman. The thought of it is not pretty… Yet another obstacle that the homeless have to overcome. Something we are very fortunate to take for granted in our daily lives.

    This is a good blog, Michael. A real eye opener.

  3. Sarah says:

    I have been that homeless woman, with a family. While it’s not easy, it’s just something you learn to deal with when the time comes. I thank God every day that my family and I are no longer in that situation, and we now have a roof over our head, but thinking about what I have been through while being homeless, and what others go through on a daily basis, makes me feel blessed to be given a warm home, and sad that there are others that don’t have a home. When homeles, you simply “wash up” whenever, and where ever you possibly can.

    • michael says:


      Thank you for sharing your experience and for pointing out that – although homelessness is not an easy situation to endure – that somehow, someway, one learns to live through the experience.

      I wish you and your family every good fortune and continued blessings.

      – michael –

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