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This Woman’s ‘Pop-Up Care Villages’ Are Bringing Hygiene and Dignity to San Francisco’s Homeless

“Doniece’s work is the embodiment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to service.”

This week, we honor Doniece Sandoval as our Architect of Change of the Week. Doniece is the founder of Lava Mae, a nonprofit that transforms decommissioned buses into mobile hygiene services for the homeless. Lava Mae also organizes “pop-up care villages” that offer a range of services for the homeless in one place and continues to expand into other efforts to serve this population and change how we all perceive this group in need.

Doniece’s work is the embodiment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to service. Her work is caring and compassionate and it is making people feel seen and heard.

1. How She’s Moving Humanity Forward: Doniece and her organization Lava Mae began with transforming decommissioned buses into mobile hygiene services for the homeless. From there, they launched “pop-up care villages” to offer a range of services like showers, haircuts, dental care and more in one easy-to-access location. The pop-up care villages served 1,200 people last year.

2. How It All Started: Doniece’s lightbulb went off the day she heard a woman on the streets crying out that she wanted to be clean. “I researched and learned about the Third World conditions and access to public sanitation that people had here. Then I saw an article in the paper about decommissioning buses and I got the idea. In June 2014, we began our pilot program and very quickly we knew we were onto something good.”

3. Why We Need to Change Our Point of View: “The vast majority of people still perceive the homeless as lazy or addicted. But, 80 percent of people who are homeless are temporarily homeless. Those people are working very hard to get out of homelessness and probably not identifiable as homeless. As long as the brand is negative, the broader community isn’t driven to empathy. We have to shift perception and shatter stereotypes.”

4. How to Dream Big: “You have to be fully mission focused,” Doniece said. “We want to be the Tesla of the nonprofit world. The idea is to be looking and think with a business mindset. I love the nonprofit world, but it breaks my heart because there’s too much propensity to think of it as scarcity instead of a growth mentality. My belief is if we all get together, we can make the pie even larger, so it is big enough for everyone.”

5. What’s Next: Doniece and Lava Mae have just unveiled an art exhibit called Coming Clean: SFthat seeks to amplify the intimate experience of homelessness through the artists’ lens. “We’re working with artists who are looking at the issue from all kinds of angles,” she said. “Some of it is subtle and some is direct. The goal is to provoke conversation.”

To learn more about Doniece Sandoval’s work, visit