Google-funded Bus Provides Mobile Showers for Homeless in San Francisco

lava mae busAfter activists took Google to court earlier this year over a proposed shuttle bus service for employees in San Francisco that would make use of public bus stops, Google looked to heal some of the damage done to its reputation through a program called Google Impact Challenge.

According to Google, the Impact Challenge "invited nonprofits to share their bright ideas for a better Bay Area," which were then voted on by the public and a board of community advisors. The winners—25 organizations in all—were announced in June and received grants of up to $500,000.

One winner of the Impact Challenge, an organization called Lava Mae, is getting attention after unveiling a trial version of a bus that provides showers and toilets for San Francisco's homeless, who number more than 6,400 according to a 2013 survey. Thanks in part to a $100,000 grant from Google, Lava Mae fitted a former public-transit bus with two full private bathrooms, offering hot showers and clean toilets. So far, the results have been positive.

Google's shuttle bus has become a symbol of the tech giant's encroachment on a city where the middle and lower classes are feeling largely displaced by rising rent and gentrification. The publicity generated by Lava Mae—a bus of a wholly different kind and purpose—will undoubtedly generate its fair share of cynicism, but it and the rest of the organizations funded by the Impact Challenge remains a positive CSR step for the company.

Follow Brian Greene: @bwilliamgreene