Laundry Truck LA Helps Give Homeless People a Fresh Start

Laundry Truck

Laundry Truck LA is a newly formed mobile laundry service for homeless people in Los Angeles.

Currently, Laundry Truck LA operates in Huntington Park on Thursdays and Highland Park on Saturdays. The service recently received a grant allowing expansion beyond laundry services and add more days to their weekly service.

Founded by fashion designer, Jodie Dolan, Laundry Truck LA launched at the beginning of 2019. Dolan was inspired to start the service after watching homelessness around her Fashion District office in DTLA get to a point that she couldn’t ignore anymore.

Dolan subsequently got involved with The Midnight Mission in Skid Row. She began volunteering with Shower of Hope, a mobile shower service for homeless people.

“Seeing people have a beautiful and sometimes transformative shower experience, only to put their dirty clothes back on, gave me an ‘A-ha’ moment.” Dolan writes in her bio.

Today, Laundry Truck LA and Shower of Hope operate side-by-side. Giving homeless people the opportunity to take a shower and then change into warm, clean clothes.

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Doing Laundry Is Costly and Time Consuming

In Huntington Park, I meet Vanessa, a young woman that’s been homeless for about three years. Vanessa spends around $20 to wash all her clothes. “I have a lot of stuff to wash,” she admitted. She explained laundromat washers can cost $4.75 a load for the big machines and $3 a load for dryers.

Vanessa grew up in LA, living out her childhood years in Culver City before moving to Gardena. She then relocated to Lynwood where she lived for 11 years.

“I never thought I would be homeless,” Vanessa said. She and her mom used to sleep on cardboard covered sidewalks. “My mom almost got killed and robbed. It was scary, you know?” Now they sleep in her car. “It’s not a house, but it’s a roof over my head. To me, it’s like my shelter.”

Free laundry service allows Vanessa to wash her clothes once a week. She can then use the money reserved for laundry to do other things. She admitted she sometimes still has to do laundry at a regular laundromat. The laundry truck doesn’t wash shoes, bags or some blankets, for instance.

Building Community While Doing Laundry

Laundry Truck LA provides more than just clean clothes. It works alongside other service providers to offer food, haircuts and clothing.

“You can do laundry and you can eat,” Vanessa said.

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In Huntington Park on Thursdays, Parroquia Sagrada Familia church organizes food and supplies in addition to the services Laundry Truck LA and Shower of Hope provide. Some people come just for the food. Others come for all the services. These gatherings give homeless people an opportunity to socialize and network. It gives them a sense of community.

“I come here to be with other people,” Vanessa said.

On Saturdays, Laundry Truck LA and Shower of Hope park at the All Saints Episcopal Church at Highland Park. There’s no food but people are happy to come just to take a shower and wash their clothes.

“They do a good job,” said Gina, who spoke through her boyfriend Matt when asked about Laundry Truck LA. She was reluctant to talk to me directly, but happy to praise the laundry service.

Matt still hasn’t tried the service despite Gina’s testimonial. He was skeptical about the laundry truck at first. “I wasn’t sure about the detergent situation, so I didn’t want to bring [my clothes] and then not be able to wash them. I really hate carrying extra stuff.”

Luckily for Matt, and everybody else, the laundry truck provides free detergent. Matt said next time he’ll give it a try.

 

Laundry Truck

The Challenges of Helping People

Jonathan, the program director in Huntington Park, sees a lot of families. He explains a large portion of the homeless population in Huntington Park are former long-term residents of the area that got pushed out of their homes due to rising rents. “They don’t want to leave,” he said.

Even in a small, tight-knit community like Huntington Park, Jonathan said many homeless people in the area don’t know about the laundry truck or Shower of Hope.

In fact, there’s a large encampment only blocks away from the church that didn’t learn about the services until recently. As a result, Jonathan is watching their weekly service grow.

Keeping up with the growing numbers can be difficult. Vanessa said she only got one piece of chicken the day I met her. Jonathan explained that food handling laws make it difficult to give away food. The church would need to invest in a refrigerator in order to store food, which is out of their budget.

Jonathan’s church relies on donations, which can be limited depending on how much money is raised. Volunteers then cook and serve the food. Sometimes there’s only $75 to feed upwards of 80 people, which means rationing food. Some weeks, there’s simply not enough money to feed all the hungry mouths.


self portrait point mogu march 2018

Lexis-Olivier Ray

     

Lexis-Olivier Ray is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles and a regular contributor with L.A. TACO.

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