For some people in the St. Cloud area, getting to shower now means more than feeling clean. It's also about respect and a sense of dignity.

"Shower the People" is the latest outreach by a Sauk Rapids couple who have been touring around for the past few weeks with a retrofitted 15-passenger van where homeless men and women can grab a bar of soap and shampoo, and in total privacy wash away the dirt and sweat that comes with living on the street.

"People are really, really glad to get a shower because it just feels so good," said Nancy Dyson who along with partner Jason Jacques have added this shower on wheels to their five-plus years of mission work that already includes getting laundry done for the homeless and handing out meals and snacks.

"A lot of it comes down to showing people dignity and respect," said Dyson, who's had the roaming shower out at least a half-dozen times since its debut about four weeks ago. "Just imagine walking around and knowing that you smell. It's a huge dignity issue for folks. It's not changing anyone's living situation, but we're giving them a piece of their humanity."

Feedback from their clients has been unanimous in appreciation. "I feel like a new person," one man said after taking his turn in the single-stall shower.

Another man named Jeremy chimed in, "It was awesome. Felt great!"

Dyson said that her realization that something had to be done dawned on her a couple of years ago when she and Jacques, who had his own stint of living on the street, ran into a woman they knew to be homeless outside a Walmart.

As Dyson offered a hug, she saw the woman pull away out of apparent shame for not having showered in a while.

Dyson said the woman began sobbing and asked where she could go for a shower. Dyson had no answer.

That set off a bit of internet research about showers for the homeless, which revealed how a woman in San Francisco converted transit buses into multi-person showers.

Dyson and Jacques scouted around and found their van at a sales lot outside St. Cloud.

They quickly decided to buy it and waited as the sales person had the seats taken out and made other space inside.

"Jason and I sat in our car for 45 minutes," Dyson said and recalled thinking, " 'What the heck are we doing? We don't have $8,000 for this or know how to renovate it.' "

Jacques and a friend of his applied sweat equity and made it into a shower, while a plumber installed a 105-gallon water tank good enough for eight to 10 showers.

They scrambled every way they could think of to raise the money under their nonprofit Neighbors to Friends, including a spaghetti dinner at a local VFW Hall. Contributions to an online fundraising page continue to trickle in. Shower the People clients arrive to find a table offering soap, razors, shampoo, conditioner and towels.

There also are grilled hot dogs and snacks — and conversation.

"We let them know this is your time," Dyson said, "and you can stay as long as you want."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482