A charitable organization that offers mobile laundry and shower facilities to homeless people in Australia has begun to expand internationally following an a rapid increase in demand for its services.

Set up in 2014 by two friends, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, the Orange Sky Laundry started life as a van that had been fitted out with a washing machine and dryer. There are now 27 Orange Sky vans in Australia, which are operated by a team of volunteers.

Image: Orange Sky Australia

With around 116,000 homeless people across Australia, the belief that hygiene is a fundamental human right was one of the two friends’ chief motivations. However, the service does more for its users than simply help keep them clean.

“We’re not preaching anything, or teaching anything, or pushing anything,” said Patchett. “But it does take an hour to wash and dry someone’s clothes and during that time people tend to hang around. That’s when the conversations start.”

Image: Orange Sky Australia

The social dimension of the service might not be the most obvious benefit, according to Patchett, but it might be the most enduring. “Ninety-nine percent of the day, these people are walked past and ignored and not even looked at, and that can have a huge impact on psyche and sense of self-worth. So we just say g’day and offer something really practical that makes people immediately feel more confident to engage with the broader society.”

According to the Homeless World Cup Foundation, in 2015 as many as 1.6 billion people worldwide did not have adequate housing. In 2005 – the last time the UN calculated global homelessness – there were around 100 million people without any housing at all.

It’s a problem affecting affluent nations as well as the developing world. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development says around 554,000 people were homeless last year, the first time the number had risen since 2010. In Los Angeles, a city synonymous with conspicuous wealth, homelessness grew by 23% between 2016 and 2107 to around 50,000.

It costs around $68,000 to kit out one van, which can handle 15-20 loads of washing and showers per day. Orange Sky has now set up in Auckland, New Zealand where there are an estimated 1,000 rough sleepers. It is planning to open up in the USA next, and has been approached by groups working with homeless people in Greece and the UK who are interested in offering the service to their communities.

Another mark of its expansion and development comes with the appointment of a new head of strategic partnerships, Fiona Hodges, who joins the organization from cybersecurity firm Fortinet, where she was head of indirect sales.