The sky is orange for friends on the street

Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett (2016 Young Australians of the Year) set out to improve hygiene standards for homeless people and stumbled on the “power of conversation”. 

Nic and Lucas describe themselves as two everyday blokes who believe that “to make a difference, we must do things differently”. They met at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace (Brisbane). After school Nic was working as a camera man and Lucas was studying Engineering and Commerce at the University of Queensland.

At school, volunteering with a food van, their eyes had been opened to homelessness in their own backyard – people living and sleeping on the streets.  They were curious as to why people were doing it tough. Nic recalls his first encounter with the food van when he was 13 − he had never spoken to a homeless person. Over time they found the people they met were just like themselves or their relatives but things had happened in their lives and they had become homeless. 

Nic and Lucas stumbled on an original idea, admitting it was a crazy dream to build a van to wash clothes for the homeless. In October 2014, they built the first laundry van and have gone on to engage wonderful sponsors for subsequent vans. They needed to form a Board of Directors and to find experts in washing − so they consulted their Mums, who taught them how many scoops of powder to use.  

While the washing and drying is happening, there is nothing to do except sit down and have a chat − and that’s where Orange Sky, a unique service, makes the biggest impact. The six orange chairs are the most important part of the van – volunteers giving their time to chat. As well as chatting, Orange Sky also provides opportunities for their friends on the street to be empowered − giving them pathways to full time employment through commercial washing contracts.

Nic and Lucas know that many homeless people are tired and scared, don’t know where the next safe place to stay will be and may have only a few dollars in their pockets. Doing laundry is not always a priority. Those disconnected from the community see a safe, friendly face and for some, the highlight of the week can be having a genuine and non-judgemental conversation with Orange Sky volunteers. Comments from friends on the street include, “I have never washed these”; “The service is two-pronged as you get your washing done but you also meet awesome people”; “I may be homeless but I’m feeling good because my clothes have been washed and feel fresh.”

The name Orange Sky comes from the song of the same name, written by Alexi Murdoch, which is about helping brothers and sisters. It is not religiously or politically associated. They needed a name and liked the message of the song. Nic works mainly on the building side of the partnership and Lucas is all about strategy, marketing and content. 

Outfitting a van with washing machines, dryers, water tanks and a generator on board costs $110,000. They can wash and dry clothes anywhere and have travelled to disaster zones in the wake of cyclones and bushfires to reach out to those in need. Over time Nic and Lucas considered the importance of being clean when you don clean clothes and so as well as the 14 laundry vans, there are now three shower vans servicing 140 locations across Australia.   

There are 20 staff and 850 volunteers around Australia and 5.8 tonnes of laundry is washed weekly. The 2011 census (latest available figures) indicates there are 105,000 homeless across Australia. Nic and Lucas are excited by the prospect of more Orange Sky Vans reaching more people across Australia and then going international with laundry vans and shower vans.  

In Newcastle, the Orange Sky Van will work in partnership with the newly commissioned diocesan Development and Relief Agency (DARA) van which provides food. Friends on the street can grab a coffee or bite to eat and enjoy time with the volunteers while their clothes are washed and dried. Their health benefits too from having clean clothes. Both Orange Sky and DARA’s Van rely on the support of volunteers and donations to maintain their presence.

Nic and Lucas’ mission is to positively connect people with the community and they feel inspired and privileged to meet so many people. Nic is happy to be living his dream of helping others. Lucas summed up their goal simply: “When we work together and connect, great things happen. We actually don’t need a laundry van or thousands of dollars, we just need care, we just need to start the conversation.” Orange Sky Australia is about promoting respect, delivering hope and letting others know that someone is there for them.

Please visit Orange Sky Laundry. To learn about DARA’s Van, click here. To volunteer, call Brodie, 4979 1145.

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