Two years ago, Michael Holbrook, Ron Bauer, and Steve Roberts were sitting at Denny’s for a monthly men’s group discussing how they could help the homeless.
Ideas like buying socks and clothing came up, but afterwards, a homeless man who overheard the trio talking approached them and said something they never forgot.
“I am homeless and I don’t need more socks. I need a place to wash my socks — and my clothes,” they recall the man saying. “Doing laundry is expensive. My clothes are dirty. I can’t expect to ever get a job wearing dirty clothes.”
And that short conversation is what led to the launch of Laundry Love Citrus Heights in December 2016. Every second Saturday at Paradise Coin Wash in Citrus Heights, from 8 to 11 a.m., laundry washing and drying is provided free to anyone who comes in the door.
Those who come in each get access to up to three washers at a time, and a Laundry Love volunteer deposits the money needed for the load. Guests can then load the machine on their own, some of whom also offer a donation back to help cover some of the costs — which run about $700 per three-hour event.
“You know it’s funny, when we first started this we really thought it was going to be homeless that would be our main clientele,” said Bauer, one of the initial trio who started the local Laundry Love. “And yeah, some of these folks are homeless, but a lot of these folks are working poor.“
On “a good day,” the group says up to 25 percent of those served are homeless, but typically those coming in the doors are single mothers, low-income families, or others struggling financially. During each event, the group serves about 30 families, with washers and dryers running “at capacity” for the full three hours, Bauer said.
“It really helps out,” said Melissa Broadbent, a full-time college student with three kids who was at the laundromat on the second Saturday in January. Pointing to a laundry cart piled high with nine bags of clothes and noting that prices for some washers run $7, she said “it can get expensive.”
Broadbent said she found out about Laundry Love six months ago and has been coming ever since. Although living in Fair Oaks, she said the Paradise Coin Wash at 7345 Greenback Ln. is the easiest for her to get to, since it’s nearby a bus line.
Although no homeless were at the January event, several other guests, like Mariana Adams and her daughter, said the Laundry Love effort helps out with one of life’s basic needs and also helps bring the community together.
“This isn’t just about laundry, it’s about building community,” said Bauer, pointing to cookies, fruit, and coffee provided for guests by volunteers, along with books for kids to read while waiting for laundry.
“Even just simple things like getting to know the guests that come in,” said Bauer. “We get a chance to know them and build friendships and community.”
Related: Guest Opinion: What if your son or daughter became homeless?
Although the initial trio who got the local Laundry Love started all attend Divine Savior Catholic Church in Orangevale, the group intentionally formed the local Laundry Love as a nonprofit 501c(3) organization to be more ecumenical. A nationwide Laundry Love organization also helps get new organizations started, although each has their own separate nonprofit.
The local effort has grown to include more volunteers, but typically has just five to 10 volunteers helping out to put on a Saturday event — and that’s all Bauer says is needed.
“You don’t need a ton of people, because they do all their own laundry,” said Bauer. “What we do is just provide the funds.”
The group is now hopeful their simple model can spread to other communities, and they’re already helping another church get a Laundry Love going in the Oak Park area.
One of the biggest challenges the trio faced early on was finding a laundromat owner who was willing to partner with the group and allow them to essentially “take over” for three hours on a Saturday morning. Some owners were reluctant just because it was a new idea with some unknowns involved, while another laundromat’s facility didn’t have the necessary plumbing to run several dozen washers and dryers at full capacity for three hours.
“It took us almost a year to find a laundromat to support us, because it’s not understood very well,” said Steve Roberts, one of the three main volunteers who got Laundry Love off the ground. He said one thing that helped Paradise Laundry to get on board was hearing the experience of another laundromat owner who had partnered with a different Laundry Love in another area.
Another challenge has been getting more homeless to the second-Saturday events.
“Our big challenge I see is finding a way to get more homeless people to come here that live a long way away and they can’t make it,” said Roberts. One way the group has reached out to homeless was by providing free laundry cleaning during a recent winter shelter for homeless held at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church.
Related: Winter shelter for homeless underway in Citrus Heights; volunteers sought
Funding has also been a challenge, although the group says it has always had just enough money to pay for each laundry event. The group’s latest washing event was sponsored with a $500 donation from a local Knights of Columbus group based in Orangevale.
“We’ve had a couple of success stories of people that come in here, and one month they’re [living] in a car and the next month they’re saying I have an interview to get an apartment,” said Roberts. “Then they come back and it’s like, ‘I got an apartment; can I still do this?”
Roberts’ response? “Absolutely. Until you can get back on your feet and feel like, yes, I can do this by myself.”
Those interested in learning more about Laundry Love Citrus Heights can visit their website at www.laundrylovech.org.
Related: Local ministry offers low-cost RV rentals to house homeless