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Three-day growth: How not changing can make biggest change of all

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With no end in sight to soaring inflation and skyrocketing costs of living, it’s not just everyday consumers who are feeling the impact.

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National charities such as Orange Sky are also noticing the shift, with increased demand for their services, and unexpected impacts on the availability of their crucial volunteer workforce that keeps their mobile army of trucks with laundries and showers for the homeless on the road.

Recent statistics are showing that Australians are experiencing the biggest price increases since the GST.

Co-founder Nic Marchesi said this is the toughest year they’ve faced since they started Orange Sky in Brisbane eight years ago.

“Orange Sky started in October 2014 with us having that crazy idea to put some washing machines and dryers in a van and drive around, and wash and dry clothes for free,” Marchesi said.

“We’ve now got 36 vans operating in 25 locations around Australia that go out over 350 times at the same time, same place every week, run by over 2000 incredibly compassionate and empathetic volunteers.

“And to date, we’ve washed nearly two million kilos of free laundry, facilitated nearly 50,000 safe, hot showers, but most importantly, every week around Australia, amazing people from all walks of life, whether they be volunteers or people who trust us with their only possessions or donors come together and connect over a conversation.”

To try and meet this increasing demand, Orange Sky is running its fourth annual fundraising Sudsy challenge – asking people to wear the same clothes for three days in a row, and get a glimpse of homelessness while raising money to keep their trucks on the road.

He said they’re noticing the ripple effect of rising costs throughout the community, backed up by national research they commissioned from YouGov in late June to coincide with Homelessness Week (August 1-7).

That research shows that homelessness is on the rise, with a staggering one in five (21%) Australians having experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

The research also shed light on the impact of recent increases in the cost of living, with almost one in three (28%) admitting they feared losing their home because of financial difficulties, while one in four (25%) people are taking on a secondary income to make ends meet.

“It’s not only the people who use our service, but the people who run and fund our service, we’re all made of the same stuff,” he said.

“The current economic climate with natural disasters and uncertainties like the pandemic, these really basic human rights that potentially we have taken for granted are becoming more and more important.

“And unfortunately loneliness and isolation, isn’t just tied to the unhoused community. We see volunteers who, too, are lonely and isolated and not getting out of their own house. So, an opportunity to chuck on an Orange Sky shirt, go out and volunteer has a massive impact on their life.

“But we’re seeing it in our volunteer community recently not being able to volunteer anymore because of the financial pressure of driving your car to a shift, those things are in the forefront of people’s minds and something that we really hope we can respond to as well.”

Marchesi said the benefits they provide go far beyond providing laundry and shower facilities to people in need.

“What we’ve realised is that hygiene and human connection is vital to human life, and Orange Sky is just a current way of bringing people together and providing really basic health hardware,” he said.

“The importance of what we do isn’t a reflection of the idea itself – it’s a reflection of the importance it is to human life. And we’re really proud and thankful for so many people making Orange Sky happen. And whether that be donors who fund the service, volunteers who run the service, or friends who trust us with their only possessions.

“Orange Sky will never solve homelessness, but what we go out there to do every day is…most importantly connect people through conversations while the washing’s on. So, whether that be working with another service provider that does provide housing, or whether it be providing a haircut on shift, what we believe is the importance of what we do is building that community around those really vital services.”

The truly humbling aspect of their work is realising how close everyone is to homelessness.

“One or two or three things can go wrong in someone’s life and they find themselves being disconnected from the community,” Marchesi said.

“That can happen in a blink of eye, whether that was most true and pure at the start of the year with the devastating floods that very quickly suddenly made people lose their primary residence or lose that certainty or safety in their shelter.

“So, this year we encourage people to jump onto the sudsychallenge.com.au, and register as an individual or as a team to wear the same clothes three days and start little conversations. And through that, raise funds to keep those Orange Sky services running. We’ve been blown away by the generosity of people from all walks of life, donating to us.

“When people experiencing homelessness stop by one of our vans, we wash their clothes and offer them a warm shower and it makes them feel better but they tell us that it’s the conversations our volunteers have with them they love the most.”

Last year, more than 2,535 individuals, schools and companies took on The Sudsy Challenge, raising over $481,000 for Orange Sky services across Australia.

Australians can participate in The Sudsy Challenge over any three consecutive days throughout September.

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