The concept of a mobile kitchen to provide food to the homeless has been a successful model replicated around the world for decades. If a truck can house a kitchen, it is only logical that other services a house typically provides can be delivered in a similarly mobile way.
The familiar temporary ‘soup kitchen’ set-up not only feeds those in need, but also serves as a moderator between the most disadvantaged and those willing to help; opening up communication that can otherwise be awkward to instigate. Through conversations, valuable insight can be gained about how best assist the homeless gain dignity and morale.
This was the case for Jake Austin, founder of Shower To The People‘s Mobile Shower Truck in St Louis, USA. He was distributing essential items such as toiletries while volunteering with the homeless and through conversations with the thankful recipients realised there were limited options for them to be put to use. Without a shower, he also realised there was little chance of them securing even the most basic employment and therefore opportunity to turn their luck around. He then thought “If we can put a kitchen on a truck (for food trucks), why not a shower?”.
Two years later, with the help of sponsors, donations and the support of the local council there is now a truck on the streets of St Louis every week providing 50 showers and sanitary services to those in need on a typical 8 hour day.
With only two cubicles in the truck, they are also able to engage with countless people who will come take a number and wait their turn for a shower. The social aspect of gathering and interacting with the clients is also an important part of what they do. The time spent waiting allows conversations and connections to be made, and in developing a referral network they hope to direct those they encounter towards any other services that they may require.
This meaningful engagement is part of the motivation behind the Orange Sky Laundry initiative that has taken off around Australia. The concept placed two washing machines and two dryers in a van (affectionately named ‘Sudsy’) and provides a free laundry service to those on the streets. Similarly to the St Louis project, founders Lucas Patchett and Nicholas Marchesi not only aim to provide a practical service to the homeless, but also want their project to act as a catalyst for conversation. In their words; “In the one hour time it takes to wash and dry someone’s clothes there is absolutely nothing to do but sit down on one of our 6 orange chairs and have a positive and genuine conversation between our everyday volunteers and everyday friends on the street.” They are now also launching an Orange Sky Showers project to run in parallel.
In combining essential services for the homeless alongside a helpful and friendly ear, initiatives such as these aim to make life that much easier for those friends in the city that could benefit from a little extra help.