Project Outpour’s Laureen Jenkins promotes health and dignity for our city’s most vulnerable residents.
by Allison Futterman
Laureen Jenkins is showering people with kindness — literally. Jenkins, 38, is the founder of Project Outpour, which provides access to showers for homeless people. Traveling with her customized mobile shower trailer, Jenkins — a native of upstate New York who moved to Charlotte when she was 16 — and her volunteers set up each week outside of Spintastic Laundromat and The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, allowing homeless guests access to a warm shower. Her compassionate spirit, along with a longstanding passion for helping others, is reflected in her work, which seeks to elevate humanity and dignity in everyone, regardless of their circumstances.
Comments were edited for brevity and clarity.
Where did this idea come from?
In 2015, I was working in Dallas for a nonprofit that helped people living in poverty and dealing with homelessness. One day, I was chatting with a homeless man. It was a hot and gross day, and I found out that he hadn’t taken a shower in two weeks. I remember thinking about how there are so many good things like shelters and food pantries, but we never think about people needing to shower. I was disgusted that so many people were missing a basic human need. I saw a food truck and that’s when God planted the seed in me: If we can put food on a truck, why not showers?
When did you take your idea to the next level?
After I moved back to Charlotte in 2016, I had fleeting ideas about it. Then in the summer of 2017, I had lunch with my mom and I said, “Remember that shower idea? I’ve actually been doing research on it and this is a thing.” I had no idea that other places had identified this as a need and were doing it, and it was working. I said, “We’re doing this!”
Are there any rules for the people who use your showers?
We do have a set of basic expectations. It’s really just a simple code of conduct. We ask people not to smoke in the bathrooms. We ask them to be mindful of the 20-minute time limit. Of course, no harassing anyone.
You also provide useful items to those you serve.
I don’t like pre-assembled hygiene kits. It’s well-intentioned, but I think they can be wasteful and remove an opportunity for people to make decisions for themselves. We let people choose up to four items. We have combs, lip balm, deodorant and more. We want people to choose what they need, rather than giving them things they don’t need and won’t use.
What’s next for Project Outpour?
I want to go to more locations, hopefully Freedom Drive and uptown. I’m exploring other community partnerships, such as partnering with laundromats. The idea is that we would give people some kind of laundry card they could use to pay for doing their laundry. That would be another way to foster personal responsibility and accountability. While I’m not going to wash or fold your clothes for you, I will cover the cost.
To learn more about Project Outpour, visit projectoutpour.org.
Photograph Courtesy of Project Outpour