Homelessness Week 2019

At Orange Sky HQ, the words ‘positively connecting communities’ are written in giant letters on a wall that overlooks our office space. It’s hard to miss them. These three words feature on every one of our vans around Australia and New Zealand – and they also happen to be our mission statement.

It might come as a surprise that we don’t use the terms ‘laundry’, ‘showers’ or even ‘conversation’ in our mission – because what we do is all about connection and building relationships.

We often share stories of connection through friends like George, who come down to shift every week for a chat on our six orange chairs.

Or volunteers like Helen, who are so generous with their time and are passionate about giving back to the community.

This week, as part of Homelessness Week (August 4 – 10), we wanted to highlight some of the amazing service providers that we work alongside every day. Our vans operate at more than 250 locations across the country – and we (literally) could not do what we do without the support of so many incredible partners.

We spoke to a few of them about why it’s important to work together to better support our friends while they’re doing it tough.

Sonia | Sunny Street

“We’ve found the collaborative approach to be the best way to provide care. We didn’t want to duplicate any service, so we linked in with groups and we found that there was a huge need and a massive outcry for healthcare in these spaces. That wrap around model is absolutely vital to accessing services for people who are homeless.”

Melanie | Share the Dignity

“If we all work together, we can make amazing things happen. No one organisation alone has all the answers, but if we all do as much as we can, we can go a long way to tackling the problem [of homelessness].”

Steve | Community Support Frankston

“For us, it’s about looking at initiatives that are already going on, engaging with different groups and being able to co-locate and have different partnerships. We’re all on a similar mission, it’s about helping people that are really disadvantaged and giving them a bit of a leg up.”

Maxine | Warrawong Community Centre

“If Orange Sky didn’t do their thing and us as a small community [centre] didn’t do our thing, I think there’d be more people who are homeless.

There’s a fine line between having a home and a family, and when your life can just turn in a fraction of a second and you could become homeless. I don’t think people get that.”

Pastor Sigi | Seventh Day Adventist Church

“We’re trying to connect with our community in all facets, at all levels. Up here in Darwin, we have a lot of long grass mob… they’re going from day to day just trying to survive. We want to try offer a service that not only helps them but also encourages our young people, our own members and our community to get involved.

For a lot of these folk that are here… this is the highlight of their week, and we’re glad that we – along with Orange Sky and everyone that we partner with – are able to give them that service. It may only be a small gesture, but to them it means a lot.”

Dianne | St John's Crisis Centre

“As I say to people, I would love to go out of business but unfortunately it’s a growing business. We’re getting more and more people in crisis, whether it’s domestic violence victims, people that have lost their jobs, mental health, drug and alcohol issues – it’s a myriad of different things that cause people to come to our centre.

It’s really important for people to be aware of the problem of homelessness, because it’s quite hidden from our society today. The atypical homeless person with the beard and the trolley – it’s not like that anymore. It could be you or me walking down the street, no one would know. Community awareness is really really important.”

Lydia | Our Community Place

“Orange Sky has been absolutely beneficial to our service. We’ve seen a few more families come through now, and I think having Orange Sky here, they’re able to stay here a little bit longer and chat and we’re able to explore in depth some of the issues and be able to support them longer term. It’s been a real vital service here.

My background is in community development, I love being out there in the community and just identifying gaps and being able to support where ever possible.”

This week around Australia, Orange Sky will support and connect friends by providing more than 1,000 loads of washing, 150 hot showers and 1,600 hours of genuine conversation. But, thankfully, we are not in this alone.

Friends who come along to Orange Sky shifts also have the opportunity to access other essential services that are run by people who understand the importance of building a stronger community.

One in 200 Australians don’t have a place to call home tonight. The only way to support everyone who needs it is work together and positively connect the community as one.

A Sudsy Supporter

Meet Chelsea. She started working with Orange Sky in January and since then, we’ve learnt a few things about her; she is afraid of butterflies (we know, SO MANY QUESTIONS), she never reads the last page of a novel and she’s great at bringing in a buck or two (not surprising that she’s an Accountant!)

Chelsea and her partner, Arno are among our top fundraisers for The Sudsy Challenge, raising nearly $600 towards their goal of $1152 (which will support four friends for one whole year).

She said being part of The Sudsy Challenge gave her the opportunity to raise awareness about homelessness and experiences in her own community.

“Many of us are fortunate enough not to be in this situation, but there is something we can do to make a difference,” she said.

“My partner and I decided to do The Sudsy Challenge to help support the 116,000 Australians who are experiencing homelessness. We want to raise $567 to help support two friends for one whole year – and we pledge to match donations dollar for dollar, so we can help a total of four friends.

“We are passionate about volunteering and we are now very excited about taking the next step in furthering our impact!

“We hope people will join us in raising awareness for friends doing it tough and pitch in what they can – and don’t forget that it’s tax deductible!”

Chelsea is one of 2400 people who have signed up for The Sudsy Challenge and helped to raise more than $115,000 for people doing it tough.

Kitted up in her Sudsy shirt, Chelsea said she was hoping to have lots of “positive and informative” chats.

“We want to get out as much as we can because it’s a great opportunity to introduce Orange Sky and the Sudsy Challenge to our community! Since we are doing this as a team, we are planning on sticking together for the weekend. We are hoping that the matching t-shirts will invite a lot of curious eyes to our cause,” she said.

“We’ll start with our routine weekend errands, add in a few social engagements and end our weekend at our shower shift at Emma Miller Place.

“We want to emphasise the value in the conversations we have on our six orange chairs and hope that people will come to appreciate that broader conversations about homelessness must continue.”

Although Chelsea has only been with Orange Sky for a few short months, she’s had a huge impact already and is continuing her support for friends on the street through The Sudsy Challenge.

“Homelessness can happen to ANYONE. The power of empathy and human connection is what always pulls us back to Orange Sky’s mission of positively connecting communities. Without the continuous love and support that Arno and I have so graciously received throughout our lives, it could have happened to either of us. Being a part of the Orange Sky family and the Sudsy Challenge is our way of paying that love and support forward to those who deserve it just as much as we do.”

Want to support Chelsea and Arno?

Donate here

Two Guys, a Van, and a Crazy Idea

In 2014, two young blokes named Nic and Lucas found out that there were 116,000 Australians experiencing homelessness.

To put that in perspective, the MCG – our country’s biggest sporting arena – holds 100,000 people. Let that sink in for a bit.

Nic and Lucas knew that it was a big number and they wanted to do something to help. They had a crazy idea to build a free mobile laundry service and decided to hit up a big laundry company to get some washers and dryers.

The boys were told that it would never work, that no one would wash and dry their clothes in a park and that the machines would never operate in the back of a van.

It took them three days (and three sets of washing machines and dryers from the laundry company) to get the van working.

Nic, Lucas and Sudsy hit the streets and met a friend named Jordan. With the machines in full swing, there wasn’t a lot left to do but sit down and chat – and that’s where they learnt the real impact of the service. Sure, having clean clothes was important, but sitting down with Jordan and genuinely listening to his experience meant so much more.

That’s why at Orange Sky, our mission doesn’t involve the words ‘laundry’ or ‘washing’ – it is to positively connect communities.

We see everyday the power of a simple conversation and how feeling connected and part of a community can change a person’s life.

Here’s just a few of the friends that we’ve learnt that from over the past four and a half years:

George, Perth

George is one of our friends on the street who comes to shift each week to wash his clothes, have a warm shower and sit down for a chat with volunteers. He knows that he can rely on Orange Sky to be at the same place, same time, each and every week.

George has spent the past eight years living on and off the street and said it was the simple things that often had the biggest impact. “When you’ve been homeless for such a long time, it’s the small things that can give you a little bit more hope.”

Harry, Brisbane

When we first met Harry, he didn’t have a home, but we were able to provide him with access to clean clothes and genuine conversation. Harry taught us that homelessness is not about the absence of a roof over your head, but rather the absence of human connection. Although he no longer uses our laundry service, Harry still comes down every week for a chat with volunteers on our six orange chairs.

Luke, Sydney

Luke found himself living on the street after a serious relationship breakdown 10 years ago.
He is now getting his life back on track and said it was the support and genuine care of people in his life who helped him through such a difficult time. Every day across Australia, Orange Sky is able to provide friends like Luke with clean clothes, warm showers and genuine connection.

116,000 Australians are disconnected from the community and in need of support and human connection. But there’s something we can all do to help.

At Orange Sky, we’re lucky to have an amazing community of people who believe in what we do and support our crazy ideas – like the one to build a free mobile laundry van named Sudsy.

So, here’s another one for you all. It’s called The Sudsy Challenge; keep your kit on for three days, start conversations and support friends on the street.

Wearing the same clothes for three days in a row might be difficult or inconvenient, but that’s the whole point. It might give you just a small insight into some of the many challenges faced by our friends on the street. But it also might start a few conversations. Conversations that will help to raise funds and awareness so that everyone can have access to free laundry, warm showers and genuine conversation.

Help us build more vans like Sudsy and positively connect all Australians in need.

Sign up today for The Sudsy Challenge!

Conversations Across Cultures

It was a bleak, winter night in Parramatta but we had been having fun with several friends who had warmed themselves with a BBQ dinner, hot showers, freshly cleaned clothes and lively conversation. We had started to get ready to pack up, waiting for one load of clothes to finish its drying cycle. A few friends remained chatting with volunteers but there was one man seated alone on an orange chair. He was quite an old man, well into his seventies I think, and he looked lonely sitting there by himself. I decided to sit down beside him and see if he wanted to chat.

It was pretty obvious from the outset that he spoke little English. He pointed to the van and I understood that his washing was still in the dryer, which was obviously why he was sitting, waiting. Through a combination of a few English words, hand signals and a trusty iphone, I soon learned that he had come from Syria and was staying with relatives while trying to figure out where to live.

He animatedly talked about the dangers of living in Syria and the everyday terror of living in a war torn country. He showed me photos of several of his children who were dotted all over the world. His eyes filled with pride over the beauty of one of his daughters, and the fear was etched on his face when he showed me one of his sons, who must have still been in Syria. It was an extraordinary conversation, made so much more special somehow by the absence of a shared language.

After about 15 minutes, a volunteer who had been helping with tidying up around the van came up and spoke to me and asked if the man spoke Arabic. Of course he did! I’d been struggling to communicate for 15 minutes and here was a young woman who could speak the man’s language!!! I was then able to ask so many more of my questions and find out so much more about his life. He asked us about Orange Sky and what we all did. We all chatted and laughed about nothing and everything.

Another of the volunteers removed the man’s belongings from the dryer and put the still warm clothes carefully into the man’s shopping jeep. The man spoke softly to the volunteer who spoke his language and said, “you people provide a beautiful service”. He pushed his little jeep forward and shook hands with each of us, then waved goodbye as he walked away. It struck me that this interaction typifies the magic of Orange Sky, the basic but respectful act of washing someone’s clothes, engaging with them in simple yet powerful connections, and parting company from them knowing that they, and you, are enriched by the experience.

Help to positively connect some of the 116,000 Australians doing it tough.

Donate Now

First impressions of an Orange Sky shift

Picture this; it’s a cold night in May, it’s raining, and you’ve just finished your first volunteer shift with Orange Sky at 9.30pm. You’re happy to be in a nice, warm car with the heater on and you’re already thinking about that cup of tea you’re going to have before hopping into bed tonight. But before you can do that, you bring yourself back to the friends you’ve just said goodbye to on shift and the 116,000 people who tonight, don’t have a place to call home.

A few months ago, we partnered with Harcourts in Brisbane and asked a few of their staff to do something out of their daily routine. We asked if they could give up a few hours of their day – before or after work – to go on an Orange Sky shift, sit down on our orange chairs and chat with some of people whom we have the privilege of calling our friends. It’s what 1300 of our volunteers around Australia do each and every week, and on that cold and rainy night in May, they got to experience first-hand the tough realities for our friends on the street. But more than that, they got to experience the power of connection and conversation.

Until you have been to an Orange Sky shift, it is hard to fully understand the importance of our six orange chairs. It’s where barriers are broken down, stereotypes are challenged, relationships are built and connections are formed. When you’re sitting on those orange chairs, you’re not thinking about the hundreds of emails that you have sitting on in your inbox or the life admin that you have to do on the weekend. You’re focused on the unique individual sitting on the chair across from you and what is happening in their world. At Orange Sky, we’ve seen how a positive connection can transform a person’s life, and that’s why we’re so passionate about helping to connect people all around Australia – and soon the world.

Before volunteering with Orange Sky, many people tell us they’ve never had any connection with a person experiencing homelessness. Or at least they think they haven’t.

In Australia, there are one in 200 people who are doing it tough. Only five percent of those who are classed as ‘homeless’ by the Australian Bureau of Statistics are actually sleeping rough. The other 95 percent are staying in shelters, boarding houses, temporary accommodation or severely crowded homes.

Most of us don’t know what it’s like to spend a night on the street, but nearly all of us could relate to being cash strapped at one point or another. An unexpected bill, a medical emergency or maybe the breakdown of a relationship – it doesn’t take long to be in a situation where money is tight.

Each week, at 26 locations around Australia, we see new volunteers jump out on our vans for the very first time. People get involved with Orange Sky for all sorts of reasons – they might have time on their hands, be looking to give back to the community, or in some cases, are after some sort of human connection themselves. Just like our friends, our volunteers are interesting, complex and extraordinary people who give up their time each week to help make someone else’s life just that little bit better.

Caitlin was one of the staff from Harcourts who came along to shift and met some of our friends. She told us she was overwhelmed by positivity and resilience of a friend she met out on shift that night.

“He’s had such bad luck and he’s such a nice guy… I couldn’t believe all the stuff he did. He lost his housing because he was paying rent to someone who wasn’t paying the real estate. He’s built his own little house and coffee table and created all this stuff from kerbside pick-up. He’s a really good guy.”

You can check out the full video below to see what happened when Harcourts staff met our friends.

Interested in joining the team?
Check out our volunteer page  to find out more and register to get involved.

Volunteer Now

How to Build a Mobile Laundry

Tell us a little about yourself
Hi, I am Joel and I am 23 years old. I am a Mechanical Trades Assistant at Orange Sky Australia and I specialise in anything carpentry or technical drawing related.

What are you building at the moment?
We are in the final stages of building a laundry van that is headed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of Palm Island in North Queensland. We are using a Mercedes Sprinter like we use for our hybrid vehicles, but this time we started with a cab chassis [a truck body]. The canopy was custom made and built off site.

What was it like planning the build?
We got the news that we had to build a vehicle for Palm Island and white-boarded the pros and cons against our current fleet. We then looked at our hybrid vans and laundry vans; how they function, how they can be maintained and how future-proof they are. A few options became clear when discussing the Lockhart River truck around the mechanical quality of the vehicle. It has not always been the easiest of vehicles to maintain so we made the decision to purchase a new vehicle. When everything was drawn up on the whiteboard, we landed on the purchase of a box body cab chassis; the first of its kind for Orange Sky.

What were some of the most important parts of the build process?
A lot of planning goes into this type of build but all of the systems already in our other vehicles stay the same. We have a great base to start with but there is a lot of research and design that needs to happen before the build starts and throughout the whole process. I did a lot of research on the spacial layout of the van and how different components fit inside. Damien specialises in the weight restriction, Nic M looks after the systems, Nic P the mechanical and Steven the electrical. We map all the dependencies on on a little pie chart and get to work.

How do you work together?
Usually we will have a big catch up at the start of the build and try to forecast what the week looks like. We will then try to estimate any times that the van is going to be inaccessible for example, when it goes to get exhaust done or if we have an electrician in to work on something specific. In terms of the actual HQ staff, it is pretty organic as a result of us building a lot of vans together.

What was the hardest thing about the build?
The weight restrictions. It’s a tight payload so we don’t have a lot of weight to work with before it has to be converted to a light ridged license. This would restrict the number of volunteers that could drive and gets in the way of our flexible volunteer models. Other restrictions are space and format for the onboard water.

Did you take a lot of ideas from other Orange Sky vehicles?
A lot of the build followed a similar format to other Orange Sky vans. All of the different workable sections of the van like the burner that heats the water, the pumps the water around and washer manifolds are still in their separate components. It was potentially easier to lay out all of the parts because it does not have the restrictions of the other vans, it is a box shape and a lot easier to square off and design flexibly.

Why do you think it is important for Orange Sky to offer laundry service in Palm Island?
I didn’t realise the need for a vehicle in remote communities in Australia until I had the opportunity to visit Orange Sky’s laundry truck in Lockhart River. I now know that it is not just individuals doing it tough, it is entire communities that don’t have access to these facilities. By going there and seeing the impact that out first remote vehicle is having in Lockhart River, it is a no brainer that we need to be in as many places as possible. Palm Island is just one of the many remote communities across Australia where we can have a massive impact.

What is next for the build team at Orange Sky ?
Next is working out all of our safe working instructions for the Palm Island vehicle. Before vans launch, we need to have a set of work instructions that someone in Palm Island can use, i.e. easy to understand guides for someone in Palm Island to change the detergent drum or clean a washing machine.

At this stage we also take a lot of documentation for ourselves by troubleshooting and diagnosing issues over the phone. I will do a lot of drawing and documenting so we can leverage the success of the build and replicate for further vehicles. We can then have a lot of the parts pre-fabricated before the next chassis arrives.

What makes Orange Sky special as part of the build team?
The freedom to make suggestions. I have never been in a workplace where I have felt like a senior member of a team as a 23 years old. You don’t feel like you are limited by your experience or your age. That is the coolest thing for me.

Interested in joining the team?
Check out our volunteer page  to find out more and register to get involved.

Volunteer Now

Start Your Conversation

Eight days, nine cities, twelve Orange Sky shifts and 20,000kms.

Our east coast tour saw us hit the road in a small orange car – with a large screen television in the back – to show off our new short film and yarn with friends, volunteers and the community about its possible impact. We traversed the east coast from Brisbane to Melbourne and pulled up at as many Orange Sky shifts as we could. 

The amazing Light and Shade team are the masterminds behind the feature. They donated their time and resources to produce the film, meaning the impact presented could go directly to our friends without overheads. The aim of the short film was to show three different stories in support of a better understanding of the 116,000 people experiencing homelessness across Australia. We knew we were onto something special, but until we could present the final product to our friends, we weren’t 100 percent sure we had it right. 

From our friend Keith in Melbourne to volunteer Hugh in Sydney, everyone provided thoughtful and consistent feedback about the importance of community understanding around the diversity of people doing it tough in Australia. There was also a lot of discussion about the power of connection by sitting on our six orange chairs and having genuine conversations.

The feature video will now be playing on SBS and across Foxtel channels as community service announcements for at least the next year. We hope that the people watching will spend some time chatting with their family and friends about their own ideas around homelessness and ways that we can all play a part in supporting everyone to feel positively connected.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of the people we met on our tour. One of those people is Luke, a friend in Sydney who is getting his life back on track after some tough times. He believes there could be better understanding and support for people in need, and is now doing his part to give back and lend a hand. Watch our conversation with Luke here.
You can also check out what we got up to during our week on the road…

Interested in joining the team?
Check out our volunteer page  to find out more and register to get involved.

Volunteer Now