Connections: Steve Middleton of Orange Sky Laundry, which provides homeless people with clean clothes and positive conversation. Picture: Simone De Peak
THERE was a moment when Steve Middleton realised the remarkable power of small talk.
The realisation came alongside an Orange Sky Laundry, a van which provides a washing and drying serviceand a place of connection for homeless people, a serviceavailable across and now in Newcastle.
“Some of the stories we’ve heard around have really been eye-opening,” Mr Middleton said.
“There was one fellow, his name was Greg, and he hadn’t heard his own name in four days. That’s what he had said. No one spoke to him.”
Mr Middleton is Orange Sky Laundry’s Hunter co-ordinator and currently leads a team of 23 volunteers and growing.
While the Newcastle van officially launched last week, the concept began in 2014 and was the brainchild of Brisbane-based matesLucas Patchett and Nic Marchesi, who went on to be joint winners of the 2016 Young n of the Year Award.
The Newcastle van is Orange Sky’s 14th, with the mobile laundries also available in every capital city.
The philosophy behind it is that it takes at least one hour for the washing to finish, which Mr Middleton said is ideal time for a conversation with someone in need of a chat.
There are six chairs placed around the van to foster conversation.
“It just brings back dignity and connection like you wouldn’t believe,” Mr Middleton said.
“To go all day long with people literally turning their head away, and to come to one of our sites and just have people talk to you like you’re a normal human beingis a remarkable thing.”
Restoring dignity also extends to providing employment opportunities and creating responsibility, Mr Middleton said.
It is why the van will also operate as a commercial enterprise one day a week, with its operators to be Orange Sky’shomeless “friends”.
There is an emphasis on the use of the word “friend” to describe those who use Orange Sky.
“We recognise them as homeless because that’s the service we provide, but they are nevertheless our friends on the street,” Mr Middleton explained.
“If we think of them that way –as our friends on the street –rather than what people usually say about them –then it helps build that connection. That has huge outcomes.”
Orange Sky Laundry is half-funded through individual donations, with corporate sponsorship and grants making up the rest.
Its name comes from the songOrange Skyby Alexi Murdoch. The song is about helping your brothers and sisters.