Care and compassion Health Love and grace

Refreshing the homeless with a touch of dignity

Orange Sky volunteers Sarah, left, and Noeline with the Wellington van named Hudson
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Care for clothes and body and conversations for the soul make up the gifts charitable trust Orange Sky gives to the community.

At various sites around Auckland and Wellington the non-profit organisation provides a mobile free laundry and shower service to people experiencing homelessness or living in cars and overcrowded housing.

Most people take for granted being able to put a set of clean clothes on every day. But when a person is homeless, access to bathing and laundry facilities is usually difficult. For many homeless people their clothes can be their most precious possessions and sometimes they have only one set.

Eddie Uini is the organisation’s manager and sole employee. He says it is a joy to be able to provide support in such as practical and encouraging way. When they started out some clients said it was their first shower in months.

Orange Sky has installed washing machines, dryers and showers in vans which visit community organisations involved in supporting homeless people with services such as community meals and free dental care.

The first New Zealand Orange Sky van was launched in Auckland in October 2018, followed by a second van in Wellington a year later in October 2019.

Opportunity to connect

Each week, more than 100 volunteers give their time to help positively connect with some of the 41,000 New Zealanders doing it tough.

The focus is on creating a safe, positive and supportive environment for people who are too often ignored or feel disconnected from the community. They want to make sure that everyone has access to free laundry and shower services – but most importantly – the opportunity to connect and feel welcome.

Volunteers have one of the most important jobs at Orange Sky, to connect with clients through genuine and non-judgemental conversation. They have seen first-hand how a positive connection can impact a person’s life. In the hour that it takes to do a load of laundry, they sit down on the six orange chairs and have a chat – it’s a simple opportunity for everyday New Zealanders to connect.

It was a quiet morning when Daily Encourager visited the Wellington van which parks outside the St Thomas’s Church in Newtown, adjacent to the Wellington City Mission, on Thursday mornings.

One of the regulars, Brian, dropped in a small bag of his clothes to be washed and dried. Living alone nearby, he finds Orange Sky convenient and enjoys a chat with the volunteers.

The oldest of the volunteers on the morning’s shift was Noeline who has given a lifetime of service to the community in Lower Hutt. Now living in central Wellington, she found Orange Sky on Facebook and offered to volunteer. She particularly enjoys the opportunity to make friends with the younger generation.

Based on Aussie kindness

Orange Sky is based on an Australian organisation of the same name which began about six years ago.

The men who began Orange Sky in Australia named it for musician Alexi Murdoch’s Orange Sky, a song about lending a hand to those in need.

A year or so later Eddie was in Melbourne studying towards a Bachelor in Youth Work when he saw the Orange Sky van. He caught up with it to find out more.

On his return to New Zealand, Eddie lived in South Auckland where a lot of people were sleeping rough in his neighbourhood. When one of them died it got Eddie thinking about Orange Sky because he couldn’t find anything like it here.

He contacted Orange Sky and their CEO flew over to provide advice on how to set up a new organisation here.

A charitable trust was formed and fundraising began. Grant funding was obtained including support from the Hugo Charitable Trust and Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. Within six months the Auckland Orange Sky van was purchased and operational.

The Mercedes Sprinter van has two washing machines, two dryers and one shower unit plus the legendary six orange chairs so clients can sit and chat to volunteers while the washing is done. Robes are supplied to clients while their clothes are washed.

The rear of the Wellington van is the location for a private shower (concealed). The handbasin, mirror and changing area are on the right

The van has onboard water tanks and a generator and is fully self-sufficient.

Partnering with other service providers

Eddie says it wasn’t difficult to find people to use the free service – they simply partnered with providers of other free services such as community meals, dental and barbers.

Not only do clients look forward to chatting with the volunteers in a safe environment but Orange Sky acts as a referral service, supplying information about other providers.

Some of their clients are in employment but live on the streets or in cars.

Eddie says Orange Sky has been “really lucky” with the extent of financial support from both business supporters plus individuals who give weekly or monthly donations.

Major supporters are insurance company QBE, Hugo Charitable Trust, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the Wellington City Mission.

Free advertising has helped attract both volunteers and donations.

Covid challenges

Covid-19 has posed challenges in the past year. Closing during level 4 was one of the hardest decisions they had to make, Eddie says. But during level 4 most homeless people were offered temporary accommodation which included washing facilities. In level 3 the operation resumed under social distancing rules.

The past year has seen some of their clients find permanent accommodation. A few of those continue to use their services if their new homes lack washing machines and some have become regular financial supporters or volunteer helpers.

The vans can also respond to local emergencies if the water supply is interrupted and homes are left without washing facilities.

Plans for the next year include opening new sites in Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt in addition to the existing stops in central Wellington plus Strathmore and Tawa. More volunteers are needed for the Hutt Valley sites.

In Auckland the van is in use seven days a week, travelling to 10 stops in the central city (including the City Mission) and the south and west.

The long-term dream is to have an Orange Sky van visiting every town that needs it.

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For more information:

Orange Sky website

To read how Australia’s Orange Sky began click here

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