Homelessness Week 2018 spotlights the work of Orange Sky Laundry volunteers in Taree

Orange Sky Laundry volunteer Paul Marshall says the service is valued by so many people in the Taree area. Photo: Ainslee Dennis.
Orange Sky Laundry volunteer Paul Marshall says the service is valued by so many people in the Taree area. Photo: Ainslee Dennis.

Paul Marshall clocks more than 160 kilometres almost every Friday to do his Orange Sky Laundry shift in Taree.

He leaves his home in Port Macquarie, collects the Orange Sky Laundry van, drives around 80 kilometres to Taree, works the two-hour shift, and then drives around 80 kilometres to return home.

It's a roadtrip he has done for about six months and one he will soon stop as he prepares to go back to work. The tradie with a big heart joined the Orange Sky Laundry team after he stopped work to recover from a knee and hip replacement. Six months on, he says the experience has transformed his understanding of what it means to be homeless.

"It's really difficult to put into words, it's a heart thing,” Paul said.

I always expected to find someone who had the bum out of their pants, you know what I mean, but they are just like you or I.

Paul Marshall

"It makes you emotional. It's hard sometimes when you realise just how close you can be to that situation. I'm a tradie and I've got a great family, grandchildren, all the things that you try to achieve in life, and yet it doesn't isolate you from what can happen if things don't go right.

"Not everyone is rich, not everyone has money tucked away under a mattress. Many people are just living week to week. It's what these people have done and sadly, something just didn't work out in their life.

"I don't know that I get fearful of ever becoming like that, but I just hope that if I did, that there would be something like this to help."

Homelessness Week (August 6-12) provides Orange Sky Laundry with a platform to promote its service which helps people in Taree, Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Laurieton and Kempsey. 

The van is equipped with two washers and two dryers and comes to Taree for two hours every Monday and Friday. The Monday service operates near Taree Community Kitchen and the Friday service operates at Taree Uniting Church.

Orange Sky says the regular laundry service allows people to get their washing done while connecting with volunteers who are empathetic listeners and great conversationalists.

Christine Marriott of Wallabi Point is also part of the team that works on Friday.

It is conversations that reveal the humanity, humour and kindness of the people who use the service that Christine values most about her volunteer role.

She has been volunteering since October 2017 and says she has "learned that people become homeless for all sorts of reasons."

It can happen to anyone and you should never judge because who knows what lies ahead for us.

Christine Marriott

"There's one friend who comes here who had a really good job and then his son was killed in a car accident. He never coped with that and as a result he stopped working, so he lost his house, he lost his marriage, he lost everything.

“He is a really nice guy who just couldn't cope with what life dished out to him,” Christine said.

"The thing that surprises me is that I get more out of it than what I give to Orange Sky.

“I get the friendship of the friends who come to use the service and they are always very, very grateful for what you do. They are not greedy people, you will offer them things for free and they will say, 'oh I'm right', or they will only take one of something. Whereas a lot of other people who are much better off and who are working will grab anything free."

Christine enjoys being able to meet a need with kindness.

"There's one friend who brings his washing and will also take his clothes off and just leave a shirt and pants on in winter so that his jacket can be washed. I always try to make sure it is nice and warm for him so I'll try to put it in the dryer just before he comes back, or if I know he is not far away I will roll it up so it stays nice and warm for him - he really loves it on a cold day."

Christine Marriott says she has learned that homelessness can happen so easily and for so many different reasons. Photo: Ainslee Dennis.

Christine Marriott says she has learned that homelessness can happen so easily and for so many different reasons. Photo: Ainslee Dennis.