At the Urban Rest Stop's birthday party and open house last week (Aug. 25), program manager Ronni Gilboa explained the meaning of the colorful paper chain draping the laundry area.
The chain has more than 29,000 links, each representing a different person's first visit to this busy hygiene center for homeless people. During the past decade 29,132 unduplicated visitors have taken a total of 541,947 showers, done 222,615 loads of laundry, and used the restrooms 946,636 times. The chain is 6.5 miles long, or about the length of 50 trips up the Space Needle.
The facility may be the nation's only public hygiene center for homeless people that families with children can use together, says Sharon Lee, executive director of Seattle's Low Income Housing Institute; the nonprofit Urban Rest Stop is one of LIHI's projects. Perhaps because children are occasionally present with their parents, groups of Seattle schoolchildren enjoy volunteering at this warm, safe facility.
Gilboa described the class of third-graders who especially liked the task of squirting globs of toothpaste or shaving cream into dozens of paper mini-cups. She added, "They liked handing out the coveralls, too." Clients have the option of borrowing a pair to bring into the the bathroom and wear after their shower, while washing and drying their laundry. "Some of the coveralls are supersized," chuckled Gilboa. "We make sure those little kids don't take an unfolded pair outside in a high wind."
The Urban Rest Stop is located at 1924 Ninth Ave. in Seattle. Besides hygiene services and a welcoming atmosphere, the URS offers clinical visits with volunteer nurses, foot care, haircuts, community information, and referrals. All services are free of charge.
In a video at CrosscutChannel on YouTube, Gilboa talks with guests about URS's bright 10-year "chain of service":