The sun is rising over an unassuming Brisbane city park. A large orange van is parked in the middle, with its doors open wide. Young volunteers sit on pop up chairs across from homeless people. Bonds are built and lives are changed. All the while – washing machines whir away in the background.

This is the daily routine of the world’s first mobile laundry service for the homeless and its founders, Nicholas Marchesi and Lucas Patchett. The twenty-year-old best mates started Orange Sky in Brisbane one and a half years ago. Since then, they have expanded to six services across Australia and are now looking to head overseas.

The Orange spark was struck after the boys left school, wanting to help those in need and give back to their community.

“We had a strong passion to start a charity, predominantly run by young people, that could also better connect the community,” Nick says.

This led to the idea of increasing the hygiene standards of the homeless.

“It may seem like a granted – you wake up and put on a fresh set of clothes, but for countless people each day, it’s not a reality,”

— says Nick.

They then fitted out a van with industrial washers and driers and headed to parks across the city. Where they not only clean clothes, but also provide a non-judgemental ear to those in need.

“What we stumbled on was a world first, something that connected communities, reduced the transmission of diseases but most importantly, improved the lives of others.”

The charity now washes hundreds of loads each week at various locations across the country. Nick attributes a large part of their success to the advantages of youth.

“I think that our youthfulness has been an opportunity to look at things differently, and led us to come up with a solution that has been overlooked,”

— he says.

“It has also been very scalable, as we are trying to harness the energy of Australia’s youth.”

This energy and passion has led to the creation of 3 interstate services in the past 8 months.

“We put our expansion down to time, effort and a lot of wonderful people helping,” Nick says.

“The biggest thing has been working on how we communicate, build and operate. As we aim to keep the Orange Sky service consistent, especially as we aim to set up a service in Brussels in March,” he says.

The morning air is suddenly filled with laughter. As one of Orange Sky’s friends from the street and regular comedian, David Shuman, cracks another joke.

“How do dinosaurs pass their exams? – Distinctions,” he says, while a young volunteer named Joy puts his clothes in the wash.

David stumbled across Orange Sky upon moving to Brisbane last year and has grown alongside the organization.

“They only just started and man its awesome. I could never actually afford to get my clothes done, because it was either eat, get bus tickets or wash them.”

“It makes us feel confident because we aren’t not walking around with dirty clothes, because then you wouldn’t be able to be seen. So at least we are up with everyone else.”

David is one of 105,000 Australians without a home. These are people who have faced a myriad of complex issues, such as domestic violence and social, economic and health-related hardships. Orange Sky tries to understand the individual’s situation and build meaningful relationships. Having fostered thousands of hours of positive, non-judgmental conversations along the way.

“A lot of us love coming here because we can socialize, have positive feedback and see another face,” says David.

The efforts of Orange Sky in helping people like David has recently been recognised, as the boys were named Young Australian’s of the year.

“We were terrified but also excited and humbled to get called out by the Prime Minister. It was such a privilege and we are so blown away,” Lucas says.

“We are really excited to leverage off the award to spread our message, help educate Australians and expand our services.”

But as with most startups, it hasn’t been all clear skies for the boys. Having to overcome logistical and practical issues along the way.

“The biggest thing for us, is this has never been done anywhere in the world, so there is no precedent for how it should work,” Lucas says.

“Driving up into a park and wanting to connect into water and power can be a massive thing on local stakeholders, so we now have a self-sustainable van with inbuilt water tankers.”

Issues of trust and yellow tape have been overcome by leveraging well-established relationships. And the van can now park without a permit and stay in one spot as long as the need is there.

“It’s been about building up that relationship with the homeless community and also showing people the value in contributing.”

A vibrant painting is propped up on a park bench across from the van. Indigenous artist and friend from the street, Gerard shows off his latest work. It is a traditional patchwork of vibrantly coloured hands, surrounding a center puzzle piece.

“The painting is called missing puzzles. Each hand is my hand. The blues are rivers, and the orange is the fire that burns into everyone’s soul,” he says.

He went on to explain the poignant meaning behind his work – “The middle part is the puzzle that is missing. Missing pieces in your life, stuff that’s been taken away and never replaced.”

Homelessness is a complex and multilayered social issue. Orange Sky is helping to fill an important piece of the puzzle.

“There is no one overall solution. It’s all these awesome organizations doing their little bit. We do laundry and conversation; others might do housing and food. But connecting them together is the important thing,” Lucas says.

By Scott Bidmead