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.

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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.

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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.

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Keith's Passion for Connection

We met Keith on a cold winter morning in Fitzroy where he told us about a “fella in a wheelchair” that he once met on his way to the shops. The man had a sign resting on the floor asking for donations and was also unable to speak. Keith didn’t have money to offer him, but said “good day” to him in sign language (it was one of the few words Keith could remember in sign language – along with all the vowels).

“It just rung with him and he looked like a different fellow altogether because I’d said good day to him. He was really miserable before that,” Keith said.

It was clear to us to that Keith understood the power of connection and the value of a simple conversation to a person experiencing homelessness. He has first hand experience living many years on the streets of Melbourne feeling disconnected from the community.

“I had my own house once and things happened. I got assaulted on the street and it took me two years before I could walk straight again,” he said.

“I lived in parks and things like that but I didn’t stay in the same place every night, I kept on moving around the suburbs. Once I got used to living in that way, it became a way of life. And then the St Vincent’s Hospital [in Melbourne] found out how I was living and they found me a room to live in. It was a great help.”

Being part of a community is important to Keith. He came to Australia from Manchester in 1956 for the Olympic Games, and said he felt “at home” in Melbourne where the architecture was similar to Manchester.

Keith visits the Orange Sky laundry and shower van in Melbourne each week and said that everyone deserves a feeling of connection to the community.
“Since I’ve been in the Fitzroy area, I’ve seen lots of people sitting in doorways late at night, and most people just walk past them and give them a dirty look,” he said.
“I’ve found them to be very interesting people. Many of them have had a really good education, and they’ve had a rough trot in life and have hit the bottom.
“They’re on guard because they’ve had bad experiences, but just by saying hello and giving them a smile and a little chat, their personality comes out that is hidden.”

Keith said he hoped for more understanding across the community for people in tough situations.

“There’s a big gap between people that are right at the bottom end and people that have everything,” he said.

“When you’ve got everything you want and you want more, you’ll have more than you need and you’ll lose sight of other people that are struggling.

“Communication between everyone in the world is a very important thing.”

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

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Not Just a Shower

“Hi, my name is Pete and it was 18 days since I last had a shower. I live in the middle of a lake and the dirt out there is pretty thick…it’s going to take a few more showers to get that dirt off. I am glad you will be here next week as well.

I have been living at out Lake Richmond now for the last 18 days and I have been homeless on and off for about five or six years. A lot of people couldn’t live how I do. It is a hard life and what makes it even harder is the fact that my partner passed away out there four years ago. Even though that happened, I find it very safe to live there.

I have a daughter, a mother and a sister in Perth but I don’t see them much. They are all upper-class people and when I hit the streets they disowned me…they didn’t want to know me. One of the reasons for this was that I was a bad heroin user. But…I am proud to say that I haven’t used the drug for four years now…when my partner passed away it was a massive wake up call.

I don’t really mix much with anyone. Nearly everyone in the community have no idea about homelessness, they just look down on us. It’s as if we are not part of their community because we don’t live like they do. I feel like no one wants to help us because we will just go and buy drugs or make bad decisions. Not many people want to sit down and hear my story and actually empathise with what got me into this situation.

I first heard about Orange Sky about five or six months ago now. I met you at the Salvation Army and I thought it was a good idea, you don’t get many people supporting the simple things like washing clothes and having showers.

As soon as I spoke with Lisa (Service Manager), I knew I could communicate with her. I don’t connect with many people in the community but there was something about the way she spoke to me that made me at ease. I am a very stubborn person but I was able to have a very normal and easy conversation.

I come here every Friday now and love the idea that I can have a shower and have a chat. It’s ten times as good as any shower I have had in the last five years. I feel like a new man, it’s very good that you have come along.”

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

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Dot's Impact

That’s Dot O’Neill, she’s 76 years old and has been volunteering at Transit in Narre Warren for more than seven years.

Dot told us about her experience as a volunteer in Melbourne’s South East and said it was an opportunity to give back to the community.

“We’ve got a bit of everything – pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, noodles, baby food, canned food, jams, Vegemite. Whatever we’ve got, we give out,” she said.

“You get a lot out of it yourself… it’s something really special.”

Transit provides people in need with access to hot meals and groceries, but Dot said there’s another part of the service that is equally important.

“Some of [our guests] actually live on their own and just come here for companionship,” she said.

“Someone came in the other day and said ‘I pick up [groceries] not because I necessarily need it but because I need to get here and talk to people.’

“The atmosphere here is amazing. If you’re here for a while, you’ll see that we’ve got a team of volunteers that come in and give of themselves and at the moment, we’ve just got this lovely, friendly atmosphere.”

Dot said she felt part of a community at Transit and valued the opportunity to connect with people doing it tough.

“A lot of these people you get to know really personally. You sometimes hear the story of their life and you just feel that love for them,” she said.

“Having a mother come in here with her daughter and say to me ‘I’ve given food to my daughter but I haven’t been able to eat for a few days because I’ve just had absolutely nothing,’ that’s not an uncommon story.

“One woman had been moved from place to place and she had absolutely nothing. Just recently, she got a home and it’s just a real blessing to here.

“These are the sort of stories that really mean so much to us.”

Orange Sky operates at Transit in Narre Warren every Monday afternoon. Visit our volunteer page to find out more and register to get involved.

Orange Sky operates at Transit in Narre Warren every Monday afternoon.
Visit our volunteer page to find out more and register to get involved.

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Meet George

There’s a lot to love about George.

He is passionate about his community, always up for a chat, and never fails to put a smile on your face.
It’s no surprise that when he heard that an Orange Sky van was headed for his local area in Perth South, he was the first in line to know about it.
“I thought, ‘this is going to be interesting. I’d like to see how the van is set up’,’’ he said.
He decided to bring some washing down to our first shift at Rockingham to have a chat with volunteers and learn more about the service. Since that initial visit, he is now one of our most regular faces on shift – sometimes he comes to do his laundry, other times for a hot shower, but always for the conversation.

“I quite look forward to it every week, simply because I know you guys are going to be here. I can rely on you,’’ he said.

“It’s things like this that enable me to do the right thing. I don’t have to worry about trying to get some money together just to wash my clothes. Community is really important, I like to look after the community and the people in it.’’

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,’’ he said.

“I won’t go looking for a job if I stink and my clothes are dirty, but if I’ve got nice clean clothes and I smell nice and someone wants to talk to me about having a look at a job, I’ll definitely be in it.

“So that little sort of scenario can set up other scenarios that will help better my life, and if it betters my life, how many other lives can it better?”

He admitted that while it was easy to become withdrawn from the community, the weekly conversation and banter with Orange Sky volunteers helped him to feel connected.

“I can come down [to shift] and start talking about fishing, camping, whatever and you guys are always a good laugh and join in. You throw your stories in and have a good laugh,” he said.

“It just alleviates a lot of pressure out of people’s lives and that can really help people.”

When George reflects on all of his conversations with volunteers, it was one from his first ever visit to Orange Sky that comes to mind.

“I told her a little bit about where I was from up North and it was quite interesting, we just sat there talking like old friends for a good hour and a half while the washing was getting through. It was great, I really enjoyed it. It was fantastic to see that some people like to share themselves as much as I do.’’

It’s our privilege to be able to wash George’s clothes and offer him a hot shower each and every week, but an even bigger honour to enjoy his conversation and have him as a part of the Orange Sky community.

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

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The Streets Barber meets Orange Sky

He takes to the streets with a pair of scissors and eagerness to hear the stories and experiences of others. His name is Nasir Sobhani, but you might know him as ‘The Streets Barber’. He has an Instagram following of around 91,000 people and we were lucky enough to – literally – run into him on the streets of Geelong while we were in town launching our van ‘Bluey’. After a quick chat, we’d lined up our co-founder Lucas to receive his first ever cut throat shave.
We arrived at Nasir’s studio the following day and Lucas was ready to be clean-shaven for first time since he was 18. Nasir prepared the room and we were able to capture everything on film. It was amazing to hear the philosophy behind his passion for providing haircuts to people experiencing homelessness and the connections with Orange Sky’s free laundry and shower service.

“I have something that can actually make someone feel really really happy. I feel like it’s my duty to give back to humanity,” Nasir explained.
The two talked about the power of storytelling and why it is important to share people’s experiences with the community. Everyone has a story and everyone has different reasons for being in a particular situation in their life. The services that are provided by the Streets Barber and Orange Sky are only a small part of our stories. It is the power of connection and conversation that comes about by engaging with someone in a genuine and non-judgemental way.

As Nasir finished Lucas’ shave, it became clear that this was only the start of an amazing relationship with the Streets Barber in Geelong. It’s just another way that Orange Sky is positively connecting communities through strong partnerships and connected services for our friends on the street.
Check out the full video below.

Life, Art and Community

“I love showing people my art. Not many people use the colours I do, to me it’s like fire in me… when I paint it’s like fire,” he said.
Gerard, or G-Burger as we affectionately call him, has been part of Orange Sky since day one. His paintings adorn the walls of the office, and his presence within the Orange Sky community is always a familiar one. For as long as we’ve known him, art has been at the centre of his world – but it hasn’t always played a leading role.
G-Burger’s life has been a nomadic one, characterised by an array of jobs, colourful experiences and extensive travel across the country (he once walked 400km from Sarina to Townsville). His time spent living on the street and his sense of belonging to country provide him with a connection to the land that most of us could not comprehend. At many points in his life, the absence of a place to call home was an escape and – despite its unpredictability – provided a sense of routine. It also led him to discover his passion for art.
“I’d get up at 4am and walk into the city, catch the coffee van, then I’d wash my clothes and have a sleep in the park with the possums… I’d go up to Sandgate every Saturday because I liked the beach; I felt free,’’ he said.
“One day I just happened to go into a church where people were painting and I was invited to join in. I’d never even thought about painting before. The first thing I painted was a crocodile. After that I never looked back – I did my first exhibition in 2008 with just five paintings.’’
G-Burger’s vibrant paintings are reflective of his rich Aboriginal heritage, and with each brush stroke, he reminds us of the power of community and connections.
“I’m really proud as an Aboriginal person, as an Aboriginal Elder, as an Aboriginal community leader. I’m proud of my paintings, I’m proud of my people, I’m proud of my country and I’m proud of Orange Sky.”

The Power of Connection

Thomas is a friend from Canberra , who candidly opened up to us about his experience with homelessness, drug use and how he managed to find his feet again.
“A connection can be that first step to a new start. It can give you a bit of dignity and a bit of pride to go on so you’re not down there feeling like a piece of crap. You need to have connections to at least get a foot up so you can start rebuilding your life.