Share the load with Orange Sky

An incredible group of people have brought Orange Sky to New Zealand — a van decked out with washing machines and warm showers. 

Words Lara Wyatt

Orange Sky’s goal is to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness in Aotearoa. They want to positively connect communities through their offering of free laundry services, warm showers and conversation. Ben Knight of Orange Sky talks to Good about how the movement made it to New Zealand and what you can do to help.

Good: Can you explain the concept of Orange Sky? How did it start?

Ben Knight: Orange Sky is the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness. An idea founded in Australia by two 20-year-old mates, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett. In late 2014, the boys installed a couple of washing machines and dryers in the back of their old van and visited parks and drop-in centres to wash and dry clothes for free. Four years later and Orange Sky now has 28 vans across Australia and our very first van “Hugo” now operating in Auckland. We are currently operating 13 shifts weekly across Auckland but have plans to expand with more vans across the country.

What’s Orange Sky’s mission?

Our mission statement is “Positively Connecting Communities”. To do that we have a simple formula. We provide a platform for everyday Kiwis to connect through a regular laundry and shower service. The focus is on creating a safe, positive and supportive environment for people who are too often ignored and may feel disconnected from the community.

How many volunteers does Orange Sky work with and what roles do they carry out?

Orange Sky currently has just over 50 volunteers in Auckland. Each of the 13 shifts requires at least three to four volunteers to help facilitate the two-hour shift. A volunteer usually drives the van to a location and other volunteers arrive to support the washing, showers and conversations. You don’t have to be an expert clothes washer or understand the logistics behind the operation of the technical parts of the vans. Our volunteers are not social workers or experts on homelessness — they are empathetic listeners and great conversationalists.

How does Orange Sky find the friends that they help?

For every shift we partner with awesome service providers who are already hosting a myriad of services. For example every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning we can be found out the front of the Auckland City Mission, who will be providing a free breakfast to those using our services. It’s been awesome to meet and work alongside so many world-class organisations and people who are doing great mahi [work] for our friends.

How are you challenging the perception of homelessness?

If you follow along on our Facebook [page] you will find stories from our friends that are diverse, compelling and real. Every day we sit down with our friends and have conversations just like we have with our family, our workmates and others in the community. The reasons for homelessness are so complex and can be hard to put into a box. Everyone comes from different walks [of] life and to take the time to hear them and connect goes a long way to shattering the misconceptions of homelessness.

Can you give us a quick “tour” of the van?

Our van “Hugo” is fitted out with two washing machines, two dryers and a hot shower out the back. The van is fully self sufficient with a generator and two big water tanks. One for the clean water and one to hold the waste. This is enough water for our two-hour shifts, but we also have the option to plug in to a water source if we need to go longer.

If people want to volunteer or help, how do you suggest they get involved?

The best way to get involved is to head to our website, orangesky.org.nz, and click on the Volunteer tab to get started.

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