AUSTRALIA

Two Australian friends set up laundry service for homeless

Two friends in the Australian city of Brisbane came up with a unique idea last year: Set up a mobile laundry service for the city's homeless. The project has proven to be such a hit that the two 20-year-old friends have set up a second 'laundry-on-wheels' in the city of Cairns.

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Photo taken in Brisbane and published on the Facebook page of "Orange Sky Laundry"

Two friends in the Australian city of Brisbane came up with a unique idea last year: Set up a mobile laundry service for the city's homeless. The project has proven to be such a hit that the two 20-year-old friends have set up a second 'laundry-on-wheels' in the city of Cairns.

Lucas Patchett (bottom left) and Nicholas Marchesi (bottom right) are the two brains behind the 'Orange Sky Laundry' project

The duo named their project 'Orange Sky Laundry' in reference to a popular tune by a British songwriter. They refurbished an old, white van, fitting it with two washing machines and two dryers, in order to help those sleeping rough across Brisbane every night.

According to Homelessness Australia, around 100,000 people are currently sleeping on the streets across the country. Roughly 20,000 of them live in the state of Queensland, where both the cities of Brisbane and Cairns are located.

"While the washing machines spin, we talk about loads of things"

Nicholas Marchesi is the co-founder of 'Orange Sky Laundry', a project that he launched with the help of Lucas Patchett. He explains how the two got started.

When we were younger, we took part in social welfare programmes. For example, every week we handed out free breakfasts to deprived people with our school.

This van was refurbished to make it able to transport two washing machines and two dryers

 

Last year, we decided we wanted to help the underprivileged in our own way. So, each week, we take our mobile laundry service to a few dozen different places in Brisbane. We get the washing machines spinning by using water from shops located nearby. Thirty to 40 volunteers take turns driving around the entire city. Our project is financed mainly by donations, but also by a few sponsors.

Between 30 to 40 people use our washing machines in Brisbane every day. While the machines are spinning, homeless people can receive a meal served by food trucks. And we also take the opportunity to talk with as many of them as possible.

 

"Some of the homeless had never washed their clothes"

There are lots of men aged between 30 and 50 who come to see us. [Editor's note: According to Homelessness Australia, 56% of homeless people are male]. But we also meet young people and women. Some have been on the streets for a few months, some years. It tends to vary a lot. But they're almost always alone. There are hardly any families.

Paul is homeless and lives in Brisbane

 

"Every day, between 30 and 40 people come to see us in Brisbane"

The homeless people we encounter tell us their histories. Each and every one of them is unique, but they often have things in common. Some found themselves living on the streets after they either lost their jobs or ended up facing huge money problems. Others sank into a downward spiral of alcohol or drugs, which left them isolated. Others suffer mental problems or have been mistreated in the past.

When hurricane Marcia battered the Australian coast in February, this family's home was inundated by up to a metre and a half of floodwater. They were able to salvage many of their belongings by washing and drying them using the mobile laundry service

Some of the homeless had never washed their clothes. They would wear the same clothes for weeks before going to social welfare organisations to get new ones.

By the end of 2015, we hope to have extended our project to other Australian cities. We've already found 15 places where it could work.

Before 'Orange Sky Laundry' was launched, this homeless person had never been able to wash his clothes or his sheets

Post written with France 24 journalist Chloé Lauvergnier.