9 February 2021

A positive spin for Canberra's homeless

| Icon Water
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Orange Sky vans in front of Parliament House.

Mobile laundry service Orange Sky arrived in Canberra in 2016. Photo: Supplied.

It’s difficult to imagine preparing yourself for a job interview or your first day at work without a shower or a clean set of clothes.

Imagine waking up on a cold Canberra morning without hot water to warm your bones, or not being able to enjoy a cooling shower and slipping into a clean set of pyjamas after a sweat inducing summer day.

Access to a shower or laundry is something many of us take for granted, but is something not available to many people experiencing homelessness in Australia every day.

Brisbane duo Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett recognised the value that something as simple as clean laundry and a shower could provide to those in need so, in 2015, when both were aged 20, they founded Orange Sky, the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness.

They initially fitted out a van with washers and dryers, visiting parks across Brisbane to help people in their community who were doing it tough. With the support of donations, corporate partnerships and many volunteers, the organisation expanded to providing showers in the vans. It has now grown in size, providing services across Australia and New Zealand.

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In April 2016, the team at Orange Sky partnered with Icon Water to provide this vital service to Canberrans in need.

“Our partnership with Icon Water is central to our success in Canberra,” says Lucas. “With the generous support of organisations such as Icon Water, individual donors in Canberra and our foundations, we can continue to positively connect communities.”

The aptly named ‘Frosty’ van and a team of volunteers provide friends – people who use the service – with access to free laundry, warm showers and genuine conversation.

Orange Sky volunteers in van.

Volunteers provide access to free laundry, warm showers and genuine conversation. Photo: Supplied.

“Laundry and showers are really important and essential services, but it’s the hours of connection and conversation that happen on our six orange chairs that make the biggest difference,” says Lucas.

Volunteer and Icon Water employee Nicole Vonarx joined the Frosty team two years ago after hearing about the partnership arrangement between Icon Water and Orange Sky.

“I was looking to do something where I could give back to the community, and I loved the premise that something so simple and practical could give back so much dignity to many,” she says.

The Frosty van is currently running 10 shifts at various locations across the Canberra region each week, with an additional six to commence in the coming months. It’s volunteers such as Nicole who pick up and set up the van at each location, working in a team of three to four people to wash and dry laundry while also offering an ear and a friendly smile to the friends who want to stop in for a chat.

Kevin Jones, Emily Foster and Nicole Vonarx in front of Orange Sky van.

Members of the Canberra Orange Sky team (from left) Kevin Jones, Emily Foster and Nicole Vonarx, with ‘Frosty’ the van. Photo: Supplied.

Nicole describes the chat as her favourite and most important part of the work the volunteer team does.

“I really enjoy all of the different friends who I get to meet and the stories I hear,” she says. “There’s a lot of misconception of people experiencing homelessness. Everyone faces challenging circumstances in their life, and sometimes there’s no easy solution. I’ve met so many friends from various backgrounds, and they have some really interesting stories to tell.

“We have regulars who stop in for a chat, and it’s really nice to have friends come back and they’re happy to see you again. Particularly where our support has helped to create a positive change in their life. We’ve had friends stop in for a shower and clean clothes before they head off to a job interview, only to have them come back to share their success.”

It’s moments such as these that Nicole says “make you feel you’ve had a positive impact on someone’s life”.

Orange Sky volunteers folding clothes.

Since arriving in Canberra, the Orange Sky ‘Frosty’ van and its team of volunteers have done 6168 washes. Photo: Supplied.

Since arriving in Canberra, the Frosty van and its team of volunteers have done 6168 washes, provided 12,650 hours of genuine conversation, and operated 1501 shifts, helping to improve the lives of Canberrans doing it tough.

If you’re interested in volunteering to join the Canberra team or any other Orange Sky crews across Australia, register your interest at Orange Sky.

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