North Bureau Chief
Eight years ago, Jeannie Albaugh was homeless; she slept under a bridge and ate what she could when she could. She battled addiction, depression and feelings of hopelessness. She says that she never would have made it out if it weren’t for organizations and people who cared.
Today, she is the CEO of Showering Love, an organization that supports the homeless in Broward, Miami Dade and Palm Beach counties by giving haircuts, clean clothes, showers and other amenities to the people that need them the most.
“Showering Love is a non-profit that provides mobile showers with wraparound health services that restore dignity to people who are experiencing homelessness,” Albaugh said. “Showers are a gateway to other resources; the goal is to build trust so that the homeless will take the next steps to becoming self-reliant.”
Broward College President Gregory Haile’s Broward UP (Unlimited Potential) movement has partnered with Showering Love and similar organizations to bring essential services to people in underserved communities. With the help of Dr. Mildred Coyne, the Executive Director of Workforce, Education, and Economic Development, Broward UP brings these programs to local community settings such as county libraries and The Boys and Girls Club.
Dr. Marielena DeSanctis, the Provost/Senior VP for Academic Affairs and Student services, challenged Broward College faculty to come up with new ways for the college to help undeserved communities.
Geraldine Klonarides, Director of Innovative Professional Learning Curriculum and Systems remarked that “Part of the College’s mission is to transform the lives of students that face barriers to their success. To be competent in our areas of expertise, we must better understand and inform ourselves of the challenges and life circumstances of the people we serve.”
This partnership brought Albaugh and Showering Love to Central Campus on June 12 for a workshop and discussion on homelessness in our communities. The theme of the workshop was compassion; compassion for those who have lost it all and need support to get back on their feet.
Many teachers and other college faculty were in attendance. They wanted to figure out a way to help. A surprising number of college students experience poverty or homelessness, and Albaugh shared her tips on recognizing the signs.
“As many as 3.5 million Americans are homeless each year. Of these, more than 1 million are children,” Albaugh said.
Homelessness affects up to 18 percent of students at 2-year institutions and 14 percent of students at 4-years institutions, according to a study done by the HOPE Center for College, Community and Justice.
“It’s unacceptable,” Albaugh said. “So, we have to shine a light in the colleges on something that’s been in the darkness way too long.”
At first glance, Albaugh doesn’t seem like someone who could have ever been homeless. She exudes the confidence of a compassionate, educated CEO. She came from a well-off family and admits that she once had it all. “From Park Avenue to the park bench,” Albaugh described her journey from wealth to homelessness. Growing up, Albaugh helped feed the homeless. However, a back injury, a divorce, childhood trauma and some “poor choices” led Albaugh to living on the streets.
Individuals end up homeless for a myriad of reasons; many of these reasons may be out of an individual’s control. Even privileged people who once had it all could end up with nowhere to go.
“Most of us are just one tragedy or health issue away from homelessness. It can happen to me and it can happen to you,” Albaugh said.
Albaugh wants to end the stigma around homelessness. Why a person became homeless is irrelevant to Albaugh. Denigrating or justifying why a person became homeless does nobody any good. According to Albaugh, the focus should be on compassion; without compassion, the homeless may never have the courage to seek help. Just knowing that someone cares is important to the homeless, Albaugh said.
“We don’t know how they’ve gotten there. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re there,” Albaugh said.
Contrary to what one’s perceptions may be, homelessness doesn’t just happen to lazy people, alcoholics or addicts. After all, the number-one reason for homelessness in the United States is job loss. Bright, contributing members of society end up on the street every day, sometimes through no fault of their own.
Eight years ago, a letter from one of her children helped Albaugh summon the courage to seek help and get off the streets for good. She eventually re-married and reconciled with her estranged children, but she wanted to do more. She knew firsthand the suffering, the loss of dignity that homelessness brings to people.
Using donations and help from her friends, Albaugh purchased a 44-foot retired Miami city bus that she named “Grace.” Grace has 2 showers on board, and inspirational messages are on the walls and above the mirrors in the showering rooms. Grace is fully self-contained—that is, it has its own water, septic and electricity.
While she was homeless, Albaugh said that it wasn’t very difficult to find shelter or food. She slept under a bridge, and she insists that she was well-fed. She had no access to a shower, however, and that was one of the biggest barriers to improving her situation.
“How could you even go look for a job?” Albaugh asked.
In addition to the showers, Grace offers other services. Every person that uses Grace for a shower gets clean clothes, socks and undergarments. Haircuts and shaves are offered; Albaugh and her crew also help homeless people with résumé and job search services. In partnership with community stakeholders, Showering Love also stages pop-up health fairs that provide wellness checks and insurance services.
“We want to guide them to self-sufficiency,” Albaugh said. “We want to help them become self-reliant again.”
Grace is the culmination of what Albaugh describes as a “30-year vision.” In 2018, with the help of Grace, Showering Love brought showers, clean clothes and health services to over 1,000 people in need throughout South Florida. Albaugh continues to drive around South Florida giving her workshops and promoting her message of love and compassion.
“It’s about building relationships. When you build a relationship, you build trust, friendship. That’s what needs to happen,” Albaugh said.
To donate to Showering Love, visit https://showeringlove.org/donate/
Photos courtesy of The Observer/Jovan Subrath