Impact Journalism Day by Sparknews: A better society - No. 33

A mobile laundry service for the homeless

Mr Spiliopoulos (left) and Mr Tsonas hope that their "Ithaca Laundry" - a van refitted with washing machines - will help the homeless improve their self-esteem and increase their dignity.
Mr Spiliopoulos (left) and Mr Tsonas hope that their "Ithaca Laundry" - a van refitted with washing machines - will help the homeless improve their self-esteem and increase their dignity.PHOTO: TA NEA

ATHENS • For several days now, the homeless of Athens have been able to keep their clothes clean even though they don't have a home. A mobile launderette has made its appearance on the streets of the capital where the homeless can get their clothes washed and dried.

Behind this innovative idea to help the homeless improve their self-esteem and increase their dignity is a team of young scientists led by Athens graduates Thanos Spiliopoulos and Fanis Tsonas.

The launderette is a van in which two washing machines and two dryers have been installed. The team named the mobile launderette the "Ithaca Laundry" since, through their actions, they want to help the homeless rediscover their 'Ithaca'; that feeling of discovery and fulfilment.

"When a homeless person can wash their clothes and be clean, they automatically feel better," explains Mr Spiliopoulos, a 23-year- old graduate of the Department of Management Science and Technology of the Athens University of Economics and Business.

The cleanliness and smiles that the launderette has brought among the homeless did not happen instantly. A lot of work and perseverance was needed, while scholarships and grants provided the team with considerable impetus. At the end of 2014, they received a scholarship from the Angelopoulos-Clinton GIU Fellowship programme for €10,000 (S$15,100). "This funding helped us in the beginning and gave us a boost for the future," Mr Spiliopoulos remembers.

 

In the autumn of 2015, the team began to look for suitable places in Athens frequented by the homeless where they could station the mobile launderette.The goal of the "Ithaca Laundry" is to regularly operate on specific days of the week and for a number of days to gradually increase the launderette's visibility. The activity will also be carried out with the assistance of a group of volunteers. "Seven to eight people have already been mobilised, while we have received around 40 applications from people who want to help voluntarily," the group stated.

The functioning of the mobile launderette is simple: First, the team and the volunteers establish contact with the homeless and collect the clothes from them. They are then automatically washed in the washing machines, dried and returned to the individual.

Water is supplied from nearby parks or other points in the municipality where the van is stationed. The launderette operates at specific, well-known and distinguishable parts of the city, and at different places every day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'A mobile laundry service for the homeless'. Print Edition | Subscribe