In the midst of coronavirus pandemic, one Northwest Austin organization continues to provide hundreds of showers for city’s homeless

(Courtesy Lighter Loads ATX)
(Courtesy Lighter Loads ATX)

(Courtesy Lighter Loads ATX)

On Easter Sunday, Lighter Loads ATX co-founder and COO James Ritchie will haul the nonprofit’s shower and laundry trailer down to one of the city’s largest homeless tent sites in Southeast Austin.

Once there, Lighter Loads, a local nonprofit, will distribute hundreds of prepared meals to people experiencing homelessness, provide nearly 100 showers and supply laundry services for those in need.

It is a continuation of the nonprofit’s mission, Ritchie said, that began in the fall of 2018. That mission still continues despite the looming threat of the coronavirus, which has infected 700 individuals in Travis and Williamson counties, according to the latest numbers.

“We’re not scared to go out and get our hands dirty,” Ritchie said. “We’re changing lives, one shower at a time.”

Lighter Loads is now providing shower and laundry services on weekends at three different locations on a rotating basis across Austin—St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church and Mosaic Church in Northwest Austin and Texas Oaks Baptist Church in South Austin.

For Easter weekend, Ritchie said Lighter Loads is going down to Camp Responsible Adult Transition Town to distribute 150 meals, 60 pairs of jeans, 80 bras and 150 hygiene kits.

Ritchie said Lighter Loads has been able to do 30 loads of laundry on average every weekend. The organization’s trailer has provided up to 80 showers in one weekend at a location, but Ritchie said the trailer can easily handle 100 showers for residents experiencing homelessness.

“We’ll get in as many showers and loads of laundry as we can,” Ritchie said.


Individuals experiencing homelessness are exempt from the city of Austin and Travis County’s stay-at-home order, though the order still recommends that those individuals still practice social distancing guidelines to the greatest extent possible.

Ritchie said many churches that were previously able to provide showers and restrooms for Austin’s homeless have had to close their doors to the public following the order. While many of these churches continue to feed the homeless, Ritchie said, the lack of showers at churches and gyms has left a gap in services typically provided to individuals experiencing homelessness.

“A lot of [the homeless population,] we found out, have gym memberships ... just to go in and get a shower,” Ritchie said. “Basically, their needs are the same. The only thing that has changed is they can’t get showers as regularly as they could.”

Lighter Loads continues to serve the homeless population despite the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Ritchie said the nonprofit has taken appropriate steps to maintain social distancing and keep volunteers safe to the greatest extent possible while still being able to serve.

“We’re taking more precautions. We’re wearing masks and roping our area off,” Ritchie said.

While Lighter Loads’ shower and laundry trailer is built to allow multiple individuals to shower at the same time, the nonprofit’s new guidelines mandate that only one person is allowed to shower at a time.

After each shower the trailer is cleaned and sanitized. Lighter Loads was able to procure sanitizing materials used by local hospitals, Ritchie said.

But to continue serving the city’s homeless, Ritchie said Lighter Loads is in need of protective masks and hand sanitizer—two items that are in high demand.

Lighter Loads has also put the call out for donations of men’s and women’s clothing.

“Men’s and women’s underwear are a huge need,” Ritchie said. “Money is always needed, as well, to keep us rolling.”


On April 6, the city of Austin released a memo outlining plans to provide food relief in response to food insecurity emergencies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the memo, city staff have received requests from several organizations that serve Austin’s homeless for shelf-stable foods that last several weeks.

“Providing shelf-stable foods to people experiencing homelessness would reduce contact and potential exposure, allowing food recipients and food distributors to better adhere to public health guidelines,” the April 6 memo states.

The city is further providing shower, restroom and hygiene access at a handful of locations across the city, according to a March 27 memo. That memo states the Other Ones Foundation is also providing mobile hygiene clinics at locations that rotate daily.

However, the farthest north those services reach is Rundberg Lane in North Austin.

With its shower and laundry trailer, Lighter Loads is able to reach individuals experiencing homelessness in Northwest Austin and the Wells Branch area.

“We can make a change in someone's life,” Ritchie said. “It takes organizations like Lighter Loads and other organizations to come together to help the homeless in this situation right now.”
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


Protesters march toward the Texas Capitol. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
PHOTOS: Demonstrators gathered in front of the Texas Capitol as protests against police brutality continued nationwide

Protests against the killings of Goerge Floyd and Michael Ramos took place throughout the weekend in Austin.

There have been 1,168 coronavirus recoveries in the county since mid-March, and active cases in Travis County are estimate at 2,011. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Weekend update: Austin metro coronavirus hospitalizations drop to lowest level since April 28

There have been 1,168 coronavirus recoveries in the county since mid-March, and active cases in Travis County are estimate at 2,011.

Demonstrators gathered in front of the Texas Capitol on Sunday, May 31, to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Concerns over violence from outside groups force organizers to cancel ‘Justice for them All’ protest at Texas Capitol; demonstrations persist downtown

Demonstrations occured across the nation to protest police brutality in the wake of the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Austin City Hall (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)
Some on Austin City Council want more of its $272 million coronavirus relief package to go to residents in need

City Council will determine how much to put toward direct financial assistance at its June 4 meeting.

Candidates in the Senate District 14 special election responded to Community Impact Newspaper's questions about their campaigns to fill the vacant seat in the Texas Senate. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Senate District 14 candidates discuss the issues ahead of July 14 election

There are six candidates running in the special election to fill the seat of former Sen. Kirk Watson through 2022.

Parkfield Drive at Norseman Terrace
City outlines plans for 3 North Austin roadway projects to increase mobility, pedestrian safety

Plans and timelines for three separate North Austin transportation projects are now available to review online.

Travis County judge pushes back against attorney general's reprimand of stay-at-home order

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe responded to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's warning that county coronavirus orders conflicted with the state's.

Take a look at how coronavirus impacted Williamson County this week. (Chance Flowers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Take a look at how coronavirus impacted Williamson County this week

The county reported 596 total cases on May 29.

The Williamson County small-business grant program has issued more than $18.5 million as of May 29. (Ali Linan/Community Impact)
Williamson County small-business grant program issues more than $18.5 million

The program has aided more than 1,600 local businesses.

Volunteers load cars at a distribution event in South Austin on May 28. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Six food distribution events scheduled by Central Texas Food Bank in June

Residents who face food insecurities can drive up with their vehicles for no-contact pickup.

Cap Metro and its community partners have combined to delivery more than 300,000 meals to community members in need. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Capital Metro, community partners deliver more than 300K meals to community

The public transportation agency is teaming up with businesses and nonprofits to provide meals for those in need.

Williamson County and Cities Health District reported eight new cases of coronavirus May 29, bringing the county total to 596. (Screenshot courtesy Williamson County)
1 death and 8 new confirmed cases of coronavirus reported May 29 in Williamson County

Williamson County and Cities Health District reported the total number of cases at 596.