Mobile shower program offers hope, dignity for Sacramento’s unhoused community

Mark Lytal stands in a warehouse at the Sacramento Pipeworks property in the River District north of downtown. Lytal founded a free mobile shower program for the city's unhoused residents at the site and hands out supplies from the warehouse. (Photo by Janine Mapurunga)

By Chris Nichols

Seven days a week, Mark Lytal starts his day before dawn cleaning shower stalls at the Sacramento Pipeworks property in the River District north of downtown. 

It’s where he runs a free mobile shower program called Showers by Touchstone for Sacramento’s unhoused community. 

The Air Force vet is there until well after dark making sure his unhoused neighbors have what they need, whether that’s a shower, a meal, a sleeping bag or all three. 

The service, which Lytal started in 2019, offers people something more than just the chance to get clean. It offers hope and dignity.  

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you do it?’” Lytal said on a recent morning as guests lined up for showers. “Because I can. And because I love the people that I work with. That I get to work with.” 

Volunteer Vikki Kelley prepares hundreds of lunch bags daily. (Photo by Janine Mapurunga)

Those people are the volunteers and the hundreds of unhoused residents who call the streets and sidewalks of the River District home. 

The industrial neighborhood north of downtown has the largest concentration of people experiencing homelessness in the Sacramento region. 

I first met Mark in April of 2020. COVID 19 was spreading across the country and lines of unhoused people were forming each morning outside his shower trailer. They wanted to get clean and stave off the deadly virus. 

Since then, the pandemic has faded. But Mark’s compassion for Sacramento’s homeless community has only grown and so has his mobile service.

“I started out as a man with a dog, a truck and a trailer,” he told me. “And now we have two trailers, three trucks. I have actually now on payroll three employees plus myself and two of them are homeless. So, we’re growing!” 

Growing is an understatement. 

Mark said his service has provided more than 80,000 showers from Midtown to Natomas to South Sacramento over the past four years.

He hands out sack lunches, survival gear like tents and sleeping bags, jeans, T-shirts and even dress clothes for those getting ready for job interviews. And, of course, he provides some of the basics.

“We have our underwear and socks. Because everybody that takes a shower gets a brand new fresh pair of underwear and socks. You don’t leave my shower with dirty underwear unless you want to,” he said with a laugh.

The supplies are all donated and housed, row after row, in a large warehouse on the Sacramento Pipeworks property.

“We have tents, we have blankets, we have shoes. We have shoes galore,” Lytal said, touring the facility he compared to the “Amazon warehouse” of homeless supplies. “We have women’s clothes. All different sizes. Short-sleeved, long-sleeved. We have tank tops.” 

 Volunteer Joe Birt cleans the mobile shower trailers. (Photo by Janine Mapurunga)

The warehouse is owned by Touchstone Climbing, which operates a gym and brewery on the same property. The company supports Lytal’s program as a way to do something positive about the homeless crisis in the neighborhood. They’ve even made Lytal a Touchstone employee. 

There’s no doubt Mark’s showers and supplies are important. 

But so is the confidence people gain after visiting his program. Or what he calls his “mobile dignity station.”  

“When someone walks in the shower, they come out feeling like a person again. They’re recognized. Because we recognize them here. We listen. That’s our goal,” Lytal said. “We’re not judges. … We just listen and try to fill the needs as we can. I don’t care who you are, we’re just here to help everybody.” 

One of those helped is Carol, who declined to provide her last name. She’s 66 years old. She’s been unhoused for more than a year, living most recently in a tent. 

She told me she got sick with Covid, lost her job, went through her savings and eventually lost her apartment. 

Lytal’s program, by itself, won’t provide a home for Carol. But it still means a great deal, she said. 

“When I first became homeless, I didn’t know about any of these services,” she told me. “I didn’t have clean clothes. I smelled. I was dirty. It was just devastating. It was just horrible. And I found out about it … It gives me the ability to walk into society as a normal person.”  

Local homeless programs know to call Lytal and offer their services to his guests. He said this can connect people with shelters and sometimes housing.

On a recent morning, 49-year-old Ezekiel Moten was looking for something almost as difficult to find as shelter: A pair of size 15 shoes to fit his feet. 

Mark’s warehouse had what he needed. 

“It’s hard to find shoes my size. So, when you do, you gotta get ‘em,” he said. “You don’t have to walk around with chicken feet, you know?” 

When law enforcement removes homeless camps in the River District, unhoused residents can lose their belongings. Ezekiel said Lytal’s program has become a go-to place when that happens. 

“They’ll come, give you five minutes to grab your stuff. And they take everything. They’ll take all your personal possessions. Tent, everything, and just leave you with nothing,” Moten explained. “Then you gotta come here and find out if they have any tents, sleeping bags, blankets, stuff like that.” 

Taking a momentary break on a recent morning, Lytal told me he’s had two heart attacks since he started the shower program. Even with that toll, he said he’s committed to keeping it going.  

Lytal adds that his goal is not to solve Sacramento’s homelessness crisis, but instead to make it more bearable. 

“I talk to a hundred plus people every day. I hear their stories,” he said. “Most of them do not want to be out here. But they just can’t get out of the rut. I’m not here to fix it. I’m not here to save the world. I’m here to help them make it through another day.” 

“I’m not a social worker,” Lytal added. “I am just a guy that does showers.” 

Contact CapRadio’s Chris Nichols at 

A schedule of where and when the mobile shower program operates is available online at
This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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