More than 1,800 people are living on the streets in San José, Costa Rica. There are currently only a few homeless shelters in the capital and not enough to accommodate, feed, and provide showers and bathrooms to all the homeless people in the city—in fact, far from it. While the government does what it can to assist as many citizens as possible, this grassroots effort has found a creative and impactful way to make a change.
Chepe se baña is a project that provides bathrooms and mobile showers to the homeless population in the nation’s capital. The phrase roughly translates as “Chepe bathes,” or “San José bathes,” as chepe is the Costa Rican nickname for José and a name that locals use fondly when referring to the city of San José.
The Pro Mundo Foundation assisted with this incredible initiative by transforming an old bus into a mobile bathroom. Aiming to help at least 200 people a day, the bus has four showers and an access ramp. At the bus’s inauguration, the organizers also provided free grooming services, clothes, food, and medical aid to those in need.
Leader of the Chepe se baña project, Carlos Araya, explains how the movement is about more than just baths, it’s also about uplifting and inclusivity. He says, “It’s about reinserting people into society. Water transforms, it gives dignity and health.”
Chepe se tatúa, meaning “Chepe tattoos,” is a marathon event organized by a group of established tattoo artists in Costa Rica to help raise money for Chepe se baña. In collaboration with the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, Pro Mundo Foundation, and Chepe se baña, the tattoo marathon took place at Coki Tattoo Studio in Zapote at the end of May.
Tattoo artists Coki Jara, Laura Impuro, Carlos Llos, Bren Munez, Piloy Yolip, Andres Ramirez, Harold Alvarado, Moises Kampos, and Steven Cocho Kong offered tattoos from a preselected catalog for 10,000 colones (roughly US$40). The proceeds will go towards building a mobile barber shop bus, Chepe se chanea. The chepe se trend could have multiple iterations as the movement continues to grow. The foundation aims eventually to have multiple buses in different areas around Costa Rica, to help improve some of the country’s socioeconomic disparities.
If tattoos aren’t your thing, there are many other ways in which you can help. There is a great need for donations, especially of bath towels, toiletries, and clothes. You can also make a cash donation, which will go towards fitting out the buses that will serve the homeless community. Even small donations go a long way for this movement. A hot shower, clean set of clothes, and haircut can help provide the dignity all people need to get back on their feet.