On shift in Melbourne during stage 4 restrictions

“It’s been challenging for everyone going back into lockdown in Melbourne, but even more so for our friends that we see on shift. Leading up to the lockdown, we were having lots of conversations with friends about what might happen, the uncertainty and where that would leave them with access to services, and the impending social isolation.

Those conversations were particularly important – hearing their concerns, acknowledging them, and staying upbeat and positive, reassuring them that whatever challenges lockdown would present, they would eventually pass and life would return to some version of normal.  Many were agitated and anxious, but listening to them and acknowledging their perspective seemed to give them some comfort.

What we have noticed since stage 4 lockdown is that every week, we get a solid contingent of regulars who come.  For many, we are their only social interaction for the day, or even the week.  They come to ‘shoot the breeze’, have some ‘normal’ conversations and then of course the ‘all encompassing’ conversations about COVID and lockdown  – which is the key topic of conversation in Melbourne at the moment!
They come to get their laundry done. To see us and to see each other. They ask about us as much as we ask about them, and on both sides of the discussion, it is reassuring to hear how others are coping with what life is presenting, and calming to have a listening ear to air the frustrations. It feels like it is more important than ever that we are there every week, greeting them with a warm smile (hard to detect behind a mask!) and a wave! We ask how their week has been and they are eager to engage and share what’s been happening.

Some of our friends have told us they have been moved into hotels – which they have appreciated, but it is not without its challenges. Being around many other vulnerable people in the hotels has affected their anxiety levels, so ‘escaping’ that environment for a different type of social interaction has made our shifts and conversations they offer, a welcome experience.

I really feel a strong connection to the friends we serve on shift at the moment. There is a mutual understanding that we are all going through tougher times than usual, but that the conversations, the chatter and the jokes we share is so important to all of us to give us the strength and courage to get through to the other side – whatever that may look like!

We love seeing them every week, and knowing that they are in good spirits and doing ok. And I think they feel the same about the volunteers and each other!”

Denise has volunteered with Orange Sky in Melbourne for the past year and a half – normally with our shower van, Monty, but during COVID, she’s jumped on a laundry shift at Cleve Gardens on Wednesday evenings. We’re very grateful to have people like Denise as part of the Orange Sky team who not only support our mission to positively connect communities, but have empathy and understanding for our friends doing it tough.

Help us continue to ensure that our friends in Melbourne have a place to connect. 

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Four years of haircuts and conversations with Epic Hair Designs

Q: What does a hairdresser, a washing machine and a big orange van have in common?
A: You can find all three at Ivory Street in Fortitude Valley on a Friday morning!

For the last four years, Orange Sky’s Friday morning shift has taken place alongside a team of stylists from Epic Hair Designs. This means that as well as having access to clean laundry and warm showers, our friends can also sit down for a haircut. With 15 different salons across Brisbane, the team at Epic Hair Designs know a thing or two about conversation – and they fit right in at an Orange Sky shift!

“Conversation is everything. Our stylists always have such a positive experience connecting with staff, friends and volunteers of Orange Sky. Our staff’s main focus at work is always connecting with our guests and the same goes for when our staff are supporting Orange Sky.

“We see a real difference being made when our hairdressers are able to contribute to positively impacting Brisbane’s homeless.”

Four years of cutting hair on shift at Ivory Street has meant that the team at Epic Hair Designs have a made a difference in the lives of more than 6,000 friends.

A haircut might not seem like much, but it can make the world of difference to how our friends feel about themselves. Walking away from a shift in clean clothes, after the chance to have a shower, a haircut and a conversation, can mean so much to a person who might often miss out on everyday basics and human connection.

As with Orange Sky’s volunteers, Epic Hair Designs acknowledges the special relationships that form between their stylists and our friends on shift.

“Our stylists have such strong relationships with their guests, so being able to make sure our guests continue to be looked after is fantastic. Our teams also have such a strong bond with each other, Epic Hair Designs is a big family so we are grateful our teams are continuing to learn and do what they love.”

In fact, some relationships are so strong that friends will often stop by for a chat, even if they don’t need a haircut. The team told us, “There’s always a bloke who sits down for a haircut every fortnight despite not needing one just to take advantage of a chat – which we think is lovely.”

The Epic Hair Designs team loves that they can make such a difference, doing what they love and supporting Orange Sky and our friends on the street along the way. Although they haven’t been able to get out on shift since the COVID-19 pandemic, they are hoping to be back later this month – watch this space!

You can learn more about Epic Hair Designs here.

If you enjoyed reading about how the Epic Hair Designs team supports Orange Sky, we think you’ll love this story about The Streets Barber in Geelong

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A nine-year-old with a big idea

In October last year, we received an email from a nine-year old boy named Archie. He told us,

“I really want to work with homeless people when I grow up. I only found out about homeless people and why people are homeless this year and it made me really sad. When I go to Adelaide, Mum lets me talk to homeless people near Rundle Mall and sometimes if I have some money, I give them some to buy something to eat. I hope that when I am 18, Orange Sky is still going so I can come and work with you.”

We’re lucky enough to receive a lot of messages from young people – like Archie – who just want to find a way to help. It’s one the best parts of working at a place like Orange Sky where big dreams and crazy ideas come to life.

For Archie, it all started on a trip to Adelaide with his Mum, Jayne.

“Arch noticed a homeless person for the first time. He asked lots of questions [and] we talked about the kinds of things that can lead to people being homeless, such as drug and alcohol abuse, loss of employment, domestic and family violence, mental health, and breakdowns of relationships.

Driving home a few hours later, Archie suddenly burst in to tears. When I asked what was wrong, he responded with ‘I just can’t believe someone’s family would turn their back on them, and they’d have nowhere to go.’

Over the next couple of months, there were often discussions about homeless people and what Arch could do to help. Every time we went to Adelaide, where we often had a treat for lunch, he would ask to forego his lunch, and donate the money instead. I tried to talk him out of this, but over time his logic and determination to help others would win, and he would skip off with $10 in his hand to find a homeless person to help.”

With a passion to support people less fortunate than him, Archie had a big idea.

He wanted to build a free laundromat for people experiencing homelessness, but his vision didn’t stop there – he wanted to offer clean and dry sleeping bags for people to swap out, and employment opportunities for those doing it tough to provide laundry services to the community. Not a bad plan for a nine-year-old!

Like any innovator, Archie knew not to re-invent the wheel, and after hearing about Orange Sky and what we do – he decided that he wanted to come and work for us instead.

“All he wants to do is talk to the people doing it tough, hear their stories and work with them to help make their life better. He was gutted when he found out that you had to be 18 to [volunteer] out with the vans,” Jayne said.

“He wanted us to donate as much money as we could, so we talked about ways he could make money to help out Orange Sky. He decided he would collect bottles and cans (worth 10c per item in South Australia) for recycling, do jobs for people, and ask people to donate their small change.”

When Archie contacted us, he was just about to start an Everyday Hero fundraising page with the goal of raising $1,000 for Orange Sky by his 10th Birthday in May.

Every weekend, he did jobs for others, ranging from gardening, car washing and pool cleaning, right through to picking up dog poo (his least favourite, but highest paying chore). He collected bottles and cans, sorting them and taking them to the recycling depot every couple of weeks, and was humbled when other people began donating their bottles and can takings to his cause.

By his 10th birthday, Archie had raised $1,509.32 for Orange Sky.

To put that in perspective, Archie’s hard work and persistence helped to provide five entire shifts of clean laundry, warm showers and genuine connection for our friends doing it tough.

Jayne said that even though the fundraiser had ended, Archie was still collecting bottles and cans to support Orange Sky and wants to keep raising money until he is old enough to volunteer in eight years time.

“We were blown away by how hard he worked, forgoing many things he would have liked to have purchased with pocket money that was instead given to Orange Sky,” Jayne said.

“We are super proud of him and hope that he never loses the desire to help out people doing it tough.”

Today on International Youth Day, we wanted to celebrate the contribution of young people like Archie in our community.

The theme of International Youth Day 2020, ‘Youth Engagement for Global Action’ seeks to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people has a meaningful impact in communities across the world. You can learn more about International Youth Day here.

If Archie’s inspired you to set up your own fundraiser, you can set up your own event page here.

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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.

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The silver lining to isolation

As I sit here writing this in my home office after a few months living in this ‘new normal,’ I’ve started thinking about what the silver linings are to all of these new challenges.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented its fair share of challenges, but I’ve found that changing your perspective during these times can turn a dumping wave into a chance to hang ten and surf through some pretty awesome experiences!

One thing I have come to learn in life is that when we go through change, its inevitably followed by a wave of stress. We learn to adapt and mould with all our new surroundings, but one thing that typically gets missed when trying to keep our head above water is the sudden influx of new and exciting opportunities that come with it. Here are just a few that I’ve encountered…

1. We might be physically distanced, but we're more socially connected than ever.

Having some time on my own, I have begun to think about all the great people in my life who I had wanted to catch up with but had been too ‘busy’ to do so. Whilst being isolated, I have found the perfect opportunity to call these people up to reminisce and get an update of what has been happening in their lives – something I may not have done if hadn’t it been for all this pesky isolation! In fact, one of these calls turned into an online games session (that lasted for hours) and left as all laughing and feeling much more connected.

2. Being alone (sometimes) is the best form of self care

In a world were we are addicted to being busy, doing more and accomplishing more – I have found it super refreshing and highly valuable to take time away from ‘doing things’, and instead spend time listening to my own thoughts, thinking about where my life has been and what I am thinking of next.

Some of these thoughts were more surprising than I expected! Without getting too philosophical, it’s helped me connect with myself a little more, which has (ironically) helped me connect with others around me more authentically – and for that I’m thankful!

3. An appreciation for the little things in life

Once we overcome this pandemic, one thing I know for sure is that isolation will give all of us a much bigger appreciate of a face-to-face connection – something we may have previously taken for granted. I feel the saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ will be very much evident when we are released back into the big wide world! A couple of months ago, the idea of having a drink with a friend in the city was neither here nor there. Now, this is something people are yearning for and will no doubt be cherished and truly satisfying when we experience it again.

There is a law of physics that says, ‘energy cannot be created nor destroyed’, instead it just changes and takes shape in different forms. I like to think that this is a pattern in nature, and the same stands true for positive experiences and opportunities – they never go away, they just take different forms and may require us to step back and look at things in a new light to see them again.

Being isolated shouldn’t mean a loss of connection, it just gives us an opportunity to connect differently.

My Experience on the Street

Ciaran was a participant in this year’s Filthy Rich and Homeless series on SBS. He took some time to write down his experience and share what it was like to sit down in an orange chair and chat with an Orange Sky volunteer.

Throughout my whole experience [on Filthy, Rich and Homeless], I had many conversations with people experiencing homelessness. One thing I learnt, and really took away, is that every single person you see sleeping rough on the streets has a story. The amount of stories I heard where it was something in life completely out of their control that led them down the path to homelessness was devastating. I was really interested to just hear their experience, and more importantly, let them tell it to me. 
What surprised me was how much those experiencing homelessness have to worry about THEIR safety from the rest of society. I was told by one lovely man that he sleeps during the day and stays awake at night all because he is less likely to get attacked. 

I came across Orange Sky in Newtown and I think the idea behind Orange Sky is brilliant and so powerful! I walked past and saw a van with a few people who I’d seen around the streets in the previous days all sitting around with their clothes and chatting. I decided to check it out. One of the Orange Sky volunteers immediately came over to me and was so friendly, which was so refreshing after not having a genuine interaction with someone in a couple of days. He asked me how I was, how my day was going and would I like my clothes cleaned – which was the first time someone genuinely showed they cared about me in a couple of days and felt so refreshing. 
Orange Sky is such a vital service to those experiencing homelessness and is a service they can count on every week. It is something that is stable in their life when everything else is unstable, and no matter how hard the week gets, they can go to the same spot and have a genuine conversation and get their clothes washed.

I went into the experience thinking the hardest thing would be having no access to shelter and food. I wasn’t wrong, that was REALLY difficult. But to put things into perspective on how hard homelessness is, what was even harder, was the toll it took on my mental health. That isolation and not feeling like you belong as part of society.
I think the biggest take away I got from the experience, relating to connecting with those experiencing homelessness, is treating them like a mate and no different. Next time you see someone sleeping rough, giving money is great, but how about smiling, asking them how their day was and if you have the time, sitting down and having a five minute chat. That would’ve made me feel so much better if someone took the time to do that with me. The other big take away that I mentioned above was you don’t know someone else’s story, so don’t judge. 

Hearing about Kyla who was only 13 when she was sexually assaulted by her own uncle – that was really tough for me to hear. After hearing many stories of sexual assault and domestic violence throughout the experience, I realised that for a lot of these people experiencing homelessness, they saw ‘being homeless’ as a safer option to their current living situation, if you can wrap your head around that.
People experiencing homelessness are already in such a vulnerable state dealing with mental health issues amongst many other issues, imagine on top of that being ‘invisible’ to society? It is so horrific to imagine, and just getting a slight taste of what it’s like to be invisible by society made me realise that no one should ever feel like that. Having a genuine and non judgmental conversation makes us feel worthy and feel good about ourselves. Those experiencing homelessness are already going through so much, and we can make their day slightly better by having a short genuine interaction or conversation with them.

The Next Generation of Innovators

No fundraising effort is too small. Here at Orange Sky Australia, we see and appreciate every little thing that goes towards growing our community and helping our friends doing it tough.

We recently spoke to Eloise, who manages all of Orange Sky’s incoming messages through our emails, website and social media accounts. From participating in The Sudsy Challenge, gifting Orange Sky merchandise, selling toys to donate the proceeds to Orange Sky or aspiring to be the next Nic and Lucas, Eloise has heard some pretty cool stories.

“It is always a different day when I come in to work and I love that I can speak with many people from different walks of life. The best part about my job is hearing amazing stories from our supporters, and being able to provide support to our friends in need of a wash or shower,” she said.

We asked Eloise for three of her favourite stories of people doing amazing things in support of our friends…


Our friends and volunteers might be physically distanced at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that the connection has stopped. Nine-year-old Sebastian has taken it upon himself to make soap and donate 30 percent of profits to three charities – including Orange Sky. We are blown away by Sebastian’s hard work and dedication to helping others during this tough time.

“My name is Sebastian, I am nine years old and I have been making hand made soap and donating 30 percent to charities. I have chosen three charities, they are Orange Sky, Beyond Blue and Mission Australia. I chose these charities because what they do is amazing.”

Sebastian now has his own website, which you can check out here and buy some soap to support Orange Sky.

Grace & Evie

Grace and Evie spent the day at their Grandma’s work when they were home sick from school. They decided to set up a shop of their own to raise money for Orange Sky, selling office supplies, stationary and stuffed toys.

The girls raised $7.60 and were thrilled to be able to donate it towards our friends doing it tough.

St Rita's College, Clayfield

More than 120 girls from St Rita’s College, Rosa House took part in a belated Sudsy Challenge. Their goal was $1,000 and they absolutely smashed it by raising $3,888 by reaching out to friends, family and the other school houses.

The Sudsy Challenge will be back later this year, so make sure you’re following us on Facebook to find out how you can get involved!

Eloise told us that every dollar donated to Orange Sky was important.

“Each person had their own idea on how to make a difference for both Orange Sky and our friends doing it tough. Every little bit counts and we’re so grateful for any support from the community.”

At Orange Sky, we are constantly inspired by the next (and current!) generation of innovators – their social conscious, creative fundraising ideas and desire to constantly give back the community.

We’re excited to share that you can now host your own online fundraiser to support Orange Sky and ensure that we can keep delivering our service.

A letter to my son, Levi

To my dear son Levi,

I am writing this letter in May, 2020 and it’s during a time quite like no other! (Well I say that, but I don’t really know what our life will be like in the future.) As I write this, I am fortunate to be working from home and sitting next to me (also working) is your beautiful mother, Natasha. We have been doing this for the past eight weeks and miraculously we have fallen into a seamless routine of a morning walk, coffee and then straight to the home office for non-stop meetings and work. It wasn’t always this way.

You see, there is a virus in our community which has changed life as we know it. It wasn’t that long ago where we would all be out and about travelling, connecting and enjoying new environments and opportunities. But the introduction of coronavirus has meant that connection doesn’t quite look how it used to. Shops, cafes, bars and workplaces are for the most part closed and where we used to hug, handshake and high five, we now stand 1.5m apart and connect behind the safety of face masks and hand sanitizer.

One thing I have learnt from these past few months is just how much I miss the opportunity of connecting with those around me. Be it friends, colleagues or even strangers at the coffee shop. A simple conversation can be so powerful, and now that it’s missing, I have suddenly realised that I took it for granted. Working for Orange Sky, I should have known just how special a conversation is, for I have had so many while sitting on orange chairs at shift.

For a moment in my day, I could sit and look someone in the eye and talk about anything. Over the years, I have had so many amazing chats and I honestly believe they have helped shape my views on the world in so many different ways. While we might now have to stand a little further apart, continuing this conversation and connection is so important and I am proud to be part of the team that makes this happen every day.

I don’t know what the future is going to look like or where Orange Sky is going to be, but one thing I do know is that the power of people and connection is going to be more important than ever before. I am going to do my part by continuing to sit on those orange chairs and share stories or jokes (you’ll get to know soon that Dad jokes are my speciality!), and for a moment in someone’s day, truly connect in conversation.

Levi, if you are anything like me, I hope you always find a way to keep that conversation going.


What Reconciliation Means To Me

My name is Judith and I am the Program Manager for Remote and Indigenous Communities at Orange Sky. I’ve worked across remote communities in a range of contexts for a number of years, and have heard many stories and seen firsthand the consequences of past action at an individual, community and government level – but this does not make me an expert.
Reconciliation is important to me because without it, reaching an equitable and harmonious Australia will be less likely. The beauty and strength of our country needs to be reflected for and among all its people, not only some.

For me, reconciliation means acknowledging and doing our bit to right the past. It’s about coming together, getting to know one another and working alongside each other now and into the future.

It’s about keeping equity in the front of our minds at all times, which means sometimes we should preference others voices over our own or step aside to let others come forward.

Reconciliation is important to Orange Sky because we support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across all our services; metro, regional and remote. In remote areas, we work alongside communities and organisations and have a commitment to ensuring our services are appropriate and relevant. One of the most important things for us is taking the time to listen to as many people in a community before setting up a new service.

While Orange Sky’s focus is on providing a space for connection through our laundry and shower services, we are committed to providing employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s important that we work alongside employees to provide a locally appropriate service and help to improve health and well-being outcomes for the community as a way of working towards reconciliation.

During Reconciliation Week and beyond, I encourage you to learn and grow your understanding by reading, reflecting and talking with others, and acting at all times to build an equitable and positive future for all.

At Orange Sky, we’ll continue to provide ways for staff and volunteers to learn, grow and act on reconciliation to help improve outcomes for Australia’s First People.

Here’s some resources we’re diving into:

Learn more about Reconciliation Week

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What is a Laundry Pod?

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