How did Wash Away Stigma come about?
My name is Julio Luque – but most people know me as J. In May 2020, I moved from CMS Broadway (in Tucson) to work with the amazing people at CMS Yuma. During my first week on the job, I heard a loud sound coming from the exterior wall of the clinic. I asked staff what the sound was and was told it was one of the people facing homelessness in Yuma who comes by our external water faucet to “take a shower” every morning.
This continued, like clockwork; each morning I heard the faucet turn on and thought to myself, “How can we help?”
During a staff meeting, a new employee told us about a new porta potty company with a large warehouse in town. She said that they not only do porta potties, but they also rent out full showers for festivals and camping events.
A light bulb went off – thinking back to the lady “taking showers” at the clinic, we contacted the company, Porta Kleen, for more information. They told us we could rent 8 stall showers and that they would even give us a discount since we were helping out the community.
I went back to our leadership team with the shower idea and the idea took off from there! We decided to make this into a community event, hosted by CMS. Together, employees at CMS Yuma outreached different agencies and asked our community partners for help with this event to wash away stigma in our community.
To our surprise, several community agencies volunteered to participate in the event:
- The Barber’s Lounge provided three hairstylists to donate free haircuts.
- Birrieria El Gordo donated 200 pounds of food.
- Pepsi Co. donated over 40 cases of beverages.
- The Crossroads Mission Thrift Shop donated 30 huge bags of donated clothing, along with 7 clothing racks.
- The Yuma Community Food Bank donated 300 to-go meal bags.
- Horizon Health and Wellness, Hope Inc., TLCR, Sonoran Prevention Works, and the Yuma Community Foodbank.
We were taken even more by surprise when CVS Health offered to provide vaccinations to participates, and then learned that Arizona Western College would provide 22 nursing students to conduct health screenings and wound dressing at the event!
We hit the pavement and started spreading the word around the community. Several local news stations helped to promote the event and get the information to those who needed it most and we plastered the town with fliers.
On Sunday, October 4, 2020, 175 individuals participated in our Wash Away Stigma event. Participants were able to take advantage of the services and so many people in the community left the event uplifted, fed, and with a new look. People took showers and got haircuts; others took advantage of the health resources and the harm reduction information available.
Takeaway: Compassion is key!
We noticed a real need in the community to break with the stigma towards people facing hardships due to homelessness, mental health issues, and substance use. We realized how often the average person overlooks the simple things in life – like taking a shower, getting a haircut, or changing into some clean clothes. It is something that most people don’t think twice about and being able to provide these simple amenities, even for just a few hours, gives people a bit of hope and shows that people SEE them. We simply opened our eyes to what was going on and wanted to make an impact in the community.
It was the most rewarding thing for the CMS Yuma team to give back to our community and start breaking the stigma for people facing homelessness, mental health issues, and substance use.
We will definitely be doing this again!