Canberra’s homeless can soon look forward to a hot shower as well as clean clothes thanks to the Orange Sky laundry service.
Fourteen months after expanding its operations to the national capital, Orange Sky has tripled its volunteer staff to 74, received a $50,000 donation from ACT Health that will keep its laundry van on the road for the rest of the year and earned the trust of Canberra’s sizeable and vulnerable homeless population.
Brisbane-based CEO Jo Westh said that Canberra for all its wealth had the second highest pop of homelessness per capita in the country next only to Darwin, “which is extraordinary in our nation’s capital”. Orange Sky runs 10 services across Canberra and Queanbeyan.
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She said Orange Sky had partially funded a specially fitted out Mercedes Sprinter shower van, and needed another $35,000 to roll the service out in Canberra.
“It would be great to be able to bring it to Canberra before the end of winter, but we’re on track to bring the shower service to Canberra before the end of year,” she said.
Orange Sky now operates in all capital cities except Darwin and in region locations across NSW and Queensland, including shower services in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The shower vans have discreet shower cubicles,wash basins and change areas, with water heated through a heat exchanger connected to the engine.
“It would be awesome to provide hot showers to people doing it tough in Canberra because it must be awful being homeless in a climate like Canberra, ” Ms Westh said.
Orange Sky was also looking to provide work for homeless people through a commercial laundry service for organisations such as clubs, restaurants and gyms that don’t have own facilities.
While also providing an income source for Orange Sky, this interim employment model is a way to help people get used to the idea of work again, if only for a couple of hours a day.
“It just starts getting people thinking ‘I can do this’. It’s a stepping stone back into employment,” Ms Westh said.
“We’ve been doing it in Brisbane for six months months so it’s definitely got legs. We’ve been able to employ dozen of our friends from the street. They think its awesome to get some skills and interact with other people.”
Orange Sky has also introduced mental health first aid program for volunteers so they can better deal with challenges they may confront out on the streets and be first responders to anybody who might be suffering from a mental health event.
The training also helps volunteers cope with the sometimes disturbing nature of the work.
“It doesn’t turn them into counsellors but it does enable them to assess whether someone is in crisis and respond with the appropriate connections which is what Orange Sky is about, being able to positively connect people to other service providers in community,” she said.
Ms Westh said Orange Sky was all about connections and integrating with other service providers.
“We form good relationships with service providers and often we can be the link, to be able to connect them to people who don’t know about certain services. Our vans all have good IT and we connect people to other services and meal providers,” she said.
She said many people were doing a lot of good work out there but often independently from one another.
“We’re keen to be able to connect those services so that it’s a more seamless service offering,” she said.
“All of our ambition is to transition people out of homelessness, we’re not there to foster it and the more we can work together towards a solution the sooner we’ll get there.”
She said Orange Sky was as much about exploding myths about homelessness as it is about providing laundry and showers.
“There are many misconceptions about why people are homeless and we maintain everybody is unique, and just like a piece of clothing that goes in the washing machine, everybody needs to be handled with respect and dignity. A lot of Australians are getting that message since we started.”
Orange Sky take volunteers aged 18 to 80. For more information or to make a donation go to www.orangeskylaundry.com.au
Photos: An Orange Sky shower van. Another $35,000 will secure one for Canberra.
A volunteer provides company to a homeless friend.
Photos: Orange Sky