These Legends Have Found A Simple, Practical Way To Help Australia’s Homeless Population

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This post is a collaboration with the Young Australian Of The Year Awards.

“It’s about giving people back some dignity,” Nic Marchesi, co-founder of Orange Sky Laundry tells me down the line from his Brisbane headquarters. “Having clean clothes and access to ways to keep your clothes clean, is such a fundamental human right. And people like you or I can take that for granted.”

The service, a first of its kind, has been running since 2014 and is essentially a mobile laundry for as many of the 105,000 Australians living on the streets on any given day as they can reach. Ten secondhand vans have been loaded up with a washer and a dryer and are currently run by volunteers all around the country.

Despite what recent controversies may attest to, it seems there are plenty of people out there looking to provide practical and compassionate to those sleeping rough.

The Ethos And Growth Of Orange Sky Laundry 

It’s not just the fleet of vans that has grown, from the humble beginnings with just the two founders Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett — this year’s recipients of the Young Australian of the Year Award — the volunteer numbers have also risen to over 600 Australia-wide.

Nic goes on to explain that even from the beginning it was clear there was a lot more to the process than restoring respect and raising health standards. “In the hour’s time it takes to wash and dry someone’s clothes there is absolutely nothing to do but sit down and have a conversation,” he says. So now packed inside each van, beside the  the washer and dryers, are a set of orange fold-out chairs to do just that.

“I think it’s been such a success because the idea was such a simple one; we were both working with the local food service while we were still at school and came up with the trucks as another way to connect the people we were meeting with the community and provide a useful service,” adds his co-founder Lucas.

“While the food services do an amazing job, they’re always so busy,” he continues. “It doesn’t allow time for a real conversation.” The secondary objective of the Orange Sky Laundry is to connect the young people who volunteer, with the local homeless population to help expose the myths around living on the streets.

With the launch of their latest van this month in Tasmania, they now have trucks across Australia in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Sydney, Sunshine Coast, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, SE Melbourne and they now do over 5.8 tonnes of laundry every week.

Nic explains the rapid growth of the last 12 months as a product of winning the 2016 Young Australian of the Year Award and harnessing all the recognition and publicity that has come with it. “We now have people calling from all over Australia asking if they can do their own fundraising and launch a van — which is amazing.”

There are plenty of other ways to get involved too, says Lucas. “The best thing is that you don’t have to sign on for intense amounts of time, you can just do two hours every fortnight if you like. You can donate to the website, or even just engaging with us on Facebook and sharing the news is helpful.”

What’s Up Next

In June, the boys were flown to Germany to be presented with an award at the Global Best Practices Awards in Textile Cleaning and Services. They then drove from Brisbane to Melbourne as part of the 2017 Australian of the Year Nominations Drive, where they sought out other people doing great things in Australian communities.

When we asked them who they’d tip for the 2017 award — and also who they’d want to see at our Junket unconference this year — they nominated the founder of Shout Out: Youth Mental Health Pritika Desai and Zac Paden of Brotherhood of the Blues.

24-year-old Pritika started the mental health service as an attempt to foster conversation on the issue after her own experiences, and also volunteers with a bunch of other Darwin-based community organisations. She is the winner of Foundation for Young Australians and Samsung Adapt Big Ideas competition (encouraging young people to use technology for social change) and received a grant to develop a youth mental health mindfulness app called ‘In The Zone’.

Zac was born with Hemiplegic cerebral palsy; his parents were told that he wouldn’t be able to walk and may not be able to speak (though he can now do both). He’s now an ambassador for young Aboriginal people living with a disability and has been central in the development of the Brotherhood of the Blues, an inclusive band led by three young Aboriginal men with disability that performed at the most recent Byron Bay Blues Fest.

Like Lucas and Nic, you can nominate anyone you think might be making big waves towards positive change for a Young Australian Of The Year Award, or join them as a volunteer with Orange Sky Laundry here.

Nominations for Junket 2016 are now open and nominations for the  2017 Australian of the Year Awards have just one more week to go so get a move on and get here now to have your say, put your hand up, or nominate!