Laundrette For the Homeless

The specially modified van with two washing machines and creators Kostas Katsigiannis, at left, and Thanos Spiliopoulos. Photo: Kostas Katsigiannis

By Manos Charalampakis
Ta Nea, Greece

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 laundrette has made its appearance on the streets of the capital where the homeless can get their clothes washed and dried and feel nice – albeit briefly – giving them the opportunity to pursue a brighter future on better terms.

Behind this innovative idea to help the homeless improve their self-esteem and increase their dignity, there is a team of young scientists, led by Athens graduates Thanos Spiliopoulos and Fanis Tsonas. The laundrette is in a van in which two washing machines and two dryers have been installed. The team named the mobile laundrette the “Ithaca Laundry” since, as they note, through their action they want to help the homeless rediscover their ‘Ithaca’; that feeling of discovery and fulfilment. “Cleanliness leads to dignity and this, in turn, to new opportunities” is the motto of the non-profit civil partnership Spiliopoulos and Tsonas created to realize their project.

Khaosod English is presenting this story as part of Impact Journalism Day

“When a homeless person can wash their clothes and be clean, they automatically feel better. First of all, you make their daily life better,” explains Thanos Spiliotopoulos, a 23-year-old graduate of the Department of Management Science and Technology of the Athens University of Economics and Business. Spiliotopoulos was the initiator of the “Ithaca Laundry” and the person responsible for organizational issues. “By providing the homeless the opportunity to have clean clothes we give them a psychological boost to enter society” adds co-founder Fanis Chonas, a 23-year-old graduate chemical engineer of the National Technical University of Athens and responsible for the technical aspects of the mobile laundrette.

I met the two 23-year-olds a few days after the first “outing” of the mobile laundrette in Athens and their enthusiasm was evident. “We had been waiting eagerly for this day,” Fanis tells me. Thanos is satisfied and restrained at the same time when I ask him about the first reactions of the homeless to the appearance of the “Ithaca Laundry”; he says that the team offers the homeless something humane: “Okay, it’s not that we are providing them with a home but it is definitely nice to give them the opportunity to wash their clothes and at the same time offer them a cup of coffee.”

While the two men are explaining their idea to me, they simultaneously perform a last check to the washing machines and the van’s equipment since they had planned another outing of the “Ithaca Laundry” for that night. This time they were going to station their van opposite the Varvakeio Market in the area where the government community building project, “Syn Athina”, of the municipality of Athens operates.

In terms of how they came up with the idea of creating a mobile laundrette for the homeless, Thanos says that he had seen mobile laundrettes for the homeless that were in operation in San Francisco and Australia in old media reports. “At the same time I could see that in Greece there was a big problem with the homeless. So the idea to create a similar mobile laundrette in Athens was born.”

 

Scholarships and the Beginning 

The cleanliness and smiles that the mobile laundrette has been offering to the homeless for a little time now did not happen instantly. As Thanos Spiliotopoulos and Fanis Chonas explain, a lot of work and perseverance was needed, while scholarships and grants provided them with considerable impetus. At the end of 2014 they received an “Ithaca Laundry” team consists of five people.

The foundation of a non-profit partnership followed and the van was bought in the summer of 2015. “It was a used van. It took hard work to modify it to its present form,” says Thanos Spiliotopoulos. The familiar procedure of getting the licence and number plates soon followed.

Significant support for the mobile laundrette project – as highlighted by the group – was provided by a grant from Impact Hub Athens network, while the electrical equipment was provided by the company LG.

In the autumn of 2015, the team began to look for suitable places in Athens frequented by homeless or where homeless passed by, where they could station the mobile laundrette. They also contacted the Municipality of Athens for suggestions. 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 laundrette’s visibility. The activity will also be carried out with the assistance of a group of volunteers: “7–8 people have already been mobilized, while we have received around 40 applications from people who want to help voluntarily,” the group state. Volunteers will help in the collection of the clothes, transferring them from the washing machines to the dryers, returning them to the homeless and generally in the organization of the process.

 

How it Works

The functioning of the mobile laundrette is simple: First, the team and the volunteers establish contact with the homeless and collect the clothes from them. The clothes are then automatically washed in the washing machines, dried and returned to the individual. The whole process takes about two hours. Water is supplied from nearby parks or other points in the Municipality where the van is stationed. The mobile laundrette operates at specific, well-known and distinguishable parts of the city; at different places every day.