Graham man’s bus to help homeless people put on pause after thieves steal $70,000 worth of tools

Feb 5, 2024, 4:04 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm

A Graham man who is working to build a shower bus to support people experiencing homelessness in his community will have to put his project on pause after he said thieves stole tens of thousands of dollars worth of his tools.


Joe Bowers, owner of Bowers Plumbing and Remodel, said his plumbing vehicle, with tools inside, was stolen on January 7 at his worker’s house in Puyallup.

He said the suspects broke a custom lock on the back of the vehicle and cut the brake pedal to get around a lock to steal the work van.

“It’s messing with your security. You don’t feel safe in your own home,” he said. “They can steal from you out front, but what about breaking into your house?”

His team relies on that vehicle to work and help support their families, Bowers added.

The damaged vehicle and stolen tools cost Bowers around $80,000, he added.

“Worrying about them (workers), if they can provide for their family. They come to work. They get a work van, hope to get to work the next day to be able to provide for their family, but their van gets stolen,” he said.

“This is the second van stolen in two years.” He added, “Really stressed out. This happening over the last two years has been getting worse.”

Bowers was able to find his vehicle the next morning, but all of his tools and equipment were gone.

However, he spotted a number of his tools being sold online.

“We see the tools getting stolen and seeing them being reposted. It’s not worth my life to go after someone and get my tools back.” He added, “We see it all the time. I had a special tool that no one else even had. I saw it sold online so I knew it was mine. Nothing I could do it about. And the cops, they’re hands are tied. It’s hard for them.”

Bowers said his insurance rate has significantly increased after filing claims with his insurance.

“Our rates are doubled because of that. Which makes it harder for me to be in business,” he said. “It makes it hard for us as a small business to recoup that. It’s a big expense. Yeah, the insurance does pay, but I pay more insurance. And then insurance takes months to pay.”


According to the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force, more than 40,000 vehicles were stolen statewide last year – almost double the total number reported in 2019.

The agency reported that King County saw around 1,497 reported stolen vehicles in December of 2023, while Pierce County saw 551.

A spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said the number is relatively high compared to several years ago.

Sgt. Darren Moss, public information officer for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, said that most stolen vehicles are later used in violent crimes.

“A lot of the stolen vehicles that we’re seeing are being used in all sorts of crimes. The ones you’re going to see on the news all the time, they run it through a business like a weed shop or a smoke shop to steal things. Even GameStops. Sometimes F-250s and things are used to tie a chain around an ATM and rip it out of a store or out of a side of a bank. We’re also seeing a lot of these involved in burglaries at residences, commercial burglaries. We’re seeing these in armed robberies.”

Thieves are also targeting work vehicles with tools inside.

“A lot of our people who are substance abuse users, they are trying to find a way to make a quick buck. A lot of times is stealing an selling your property. With construction equipment and tools that are high valued items, if you sell them for a decent price, someone will buy them online,” Moss said.

Moss said deputies have been able to arrest a number of suspects, who often are repeat offenders. He said this possibly saves hundreds of vehicles from being stolen in the future, and prevents future violent crimes.


The recent theft is not only affecting Bowers’ small business, but it’s also impacting his ability to help people experiencing homelessness in his community, he said.

“The biggest problem I see and the most impact I can have in my short span of time on this world is to help the people who are homeless and give them a new lease on life,” Bowers added.

Bowers’ started a non-profit called Bowers Empowers, which aims to help people who may be struggling.

He said he was working to convert an old bus into a bus that would provide people experiencing homelessness a place to shower, get a haircut and get necessary supplies, including toiletry.

In order to receive these free resources, people would need to pick up trash within the community.

“The trash is the big issue. We all see it,” he said. “It’s cleaning up our community. It’s cleaning up where we live. Cleaning up our community so it’s nice to go on a walk with your family and not see garbage everywhere.”

Bowers said the bus would provide people a chance to find their confidence to kickstart their future and become self-sufficient.

“There’s no better feeling than getting a shower after you go camping. And these people are literally camping in the woods. They’re camping in our greenbelts. They’re staying down by the river. They’re getting a fresh haircut, shower, some clean socks, some clean underwear, some toiletries, hopefully, and getting a new lease on life.” He added, “Feeling better having your self-confidence. They’re clean. They’re not scruffy. They have their beard trimmed or they have their haircut and they actually feel good about themselves.”

The damaged van and stolen tools have pushed his project back for several months, he said.

Bowers said he is not upset at the suspects, adding there’s a chance they may be the same people he’s trying to help support.

“It’s not their fault. I’m not going to be mad at someone for one bad decision or one part of their life.” He said, “Hopefully this is going to be a start to something. Turn something negative that happened to me hopefully into a positive, and get this bus up and running and help our community.”

A GoFundMe was created to help Bowers with his project to support people experiencing homelessness in his community. If you’d like to help, please click here.

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Graham man’s bus to help homeless people put on pause after thieves steal $70,000 worth of tools