Washing Hope into Homelessness

By Gabrielle Boland

Homelessness hurts everyone, regardless of whether you have a roof over your head. A new charity, Orange Sky Laundry, hopes to clean Brisbane free from this suffering starting next week.

In our developed city there is something wrong; there are people missing out on what The United Nations and the World Health Organisation define as a basic right: access to water and sanitation.

Off-milk invades your every breathe with its stench. You’ve been washing your jumper daily in the public toilet’s sink since the carton leaked down your front, but it continues to pervade – mingling with intensifying body odour, as the midday heat turns your sweat sour. It doesn’t make you sick anymore, not compared to the thought of scraping your dignity together to face the eyes and noses of everyone at school. Staring at two indistinguishably foul feet, shod with the grime that coats the city streets; you can’t even bear to lift your eyes to tourists shuffling by.

“Could they be the person to solve breast cancer?” Said Homelessness Australia chief executive officer Glenda Stevens.

Who is homeless around your corner? There is someone nearby according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Someone young enough to be at school or old enough to be at work, who deserves to be healthy instead of diseased, who could be hiding from friends they wish to find and shrinking from society in fear of shame. They are wasting on the street instead of enriching the community.

See a map of Brisbane’s homeless

Ms Stevens said that it is to all of our detriment when we are deprived of that persons’ contribution to our society.

Orange Sky Laundry, started by two 20-year-olds, could be the first step to garnering these individuals back into the Brisbane community.

“We’re hoping to restore homeless peoples’ dignity, so that they can transition to better health and feeling comfortable participating in society”, said Orange Sky Laundry co-founder Nic Marchesi.

They are solving a complex issue with a simple, sudsy-solution. By providing laundry services, which most of us take for granted, for free.

It’s not only a matter of enabling quality of life, but of life and death. Stripped of clean clothes and sanitation, homeless people are prone to an array of health risks. Physical illnesses listed by Association for the Welfare of Child Health include:

  • Dermatologic conditions (e.g. skin lice, scabies, eczema, allergic rashes, dermatitis, and infections)
  • Upper respiratory and chest infections
  • Dental problems from poor oral hygiene.

“Not only is your physical health improved, but you feel psychologically better as a result,” said Ms Stevens.

“Homelessness is very isolating and you’re then more likely to engage with other people, because other people are more willing to engage with you,” she said.

Essentially they are providing an injection of self-esteem. Perhaps enough to yank someone who has plunged deep into rock-bottom, back to our world of possibilities; by making a job interview, facing classmates or simply being in the company of others.

Orange Sky Laundry’s other co-founder, Lucas Patchett, said that in the meantime he hopes it curbs violence and relieves stress on clothing handout services.

“A lot of fights happen between homeless people over clothes, and it would be great to extend the wear and longevity of homeless peoples’ clothing with the strain on handouts,” said Mr Patchett.

Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot earlier this year found just three Brisbane properties to be affordable for a family (two adults and two children) recieving the Newstart Allowance, one for a single on Austudy or Youth Allowance, and zero for a pensioner.

“It is unfortunately a growing problem,” said Ms Stevens.

“At the moment it’s not a fast growing problem, but a significant one”, she said.

In response to critics of the opinion that support services encourage people to be homeless, Ms Stevens said that no one chooses this way of life.

“The leading cause is domestic violence, followed by mental illness and financial hardship”, said Ms Stevens.

Orange Sky Laundry is tackling Brisbane first, with plans to add shower facilities and one day be Australia-wide.

A similar project which provides showers, Lava Mae, has already galvanised much success in San Francisco.

Setting precedence is rarely without challenges, but Orange Sky Laundry has overcome the engineering dilemma of how to install and transport machines that should be immobile.

“There hasn’t been anything to date that has stopped us moving forward, and it’s the intricacies of what we’re doing which I find interesting”, said Mr Marchesi.

This is the attitude he takes into their three-month trial period beginning next week. They will fine tune their model in anticipation for it to be rolled-out with volunteers next year.

The name Orange Sky Laundry was inspired by the song Orange Sky by Alexi Murdoch, which features the lyrics:

“You who are my home now
And here is what I know now brother
Here is what I know now sister
Goes like this
In your love, my salvation lies”

Find Orange Sky Laundry on Facebook


Watch a video of the laundry van being fitted-out


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