In the U.S., it’s estimated that more than 555,000 people are experiencing homelessness. The nation is in serious need of more government assistance to help provide homeless people with shelter and other basic rights and services — but in the meantime, more and more organizations are starting to operate free mobile laundry trucks for the homeless.
The Laundry Truck LA is bringing mobile laundry to the Los Angeles homeless population.
As a longtime LA resident, Jodie Dolan was always aware of the homelessness crisis in her city. But in 2016, she realized she wanted to do more to help combat homelessness in LA, where more than 66,000 people experience homelessness. So, Dolan began volunteering on Skid Row; soon after, she and the DOLAN team began volunteering with the organization The Shower of Hope, which provides free mobile showers to LA residents.
While volunteering, Dolan noticed that the people taking mobile showers would come out with their dirty clothes back on. “Being in the fashion industry, [I know] how important clean clothing is and what it can do for your self esteem,” Dolan tells Green Matters. So she thought, “Let's do a laundry truck, and let's do mobile laundry, and meet people where they are, so when they take showers, they can have clean clothes to put on.”
In early 2019, Dolan opened The Laundry Truck LA, which she says is one of the world’s first mobile laundry services for people experiencing homelessness. And during the pandemic, she opened a second truck (more on that below).
Now, seven days a week, both trucks are out on the streets in LA, fully staffed with people maintaining the trucks and on-board laundry machines, as well as washing clothes. The trucks visit different neighborhoods across the city, parking near hotels, motels, and shelters, offering free laundry services to homeless people.
“People do tell us every single day, ‘You helped me get my dignity back and help me feel like a human,’ ‘People treat me differently because I don't smell when I go to the grocery store,’” Dolan says. “I mean, it's pretty poignant. People tell us directly what an impact it has, and it's such a simple thing, but it's pretty powerful.”
The nonprofit truck is funded by DOLAN purchases — every clothing purchase from DOLAN pays for one pound of clean laundry at the mobile truck — as well as donations. In 2020, The Laundry Truck LA’s first full calendar year in service, the truck did 7,500 loads of laundry.
The coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on both DOLAN and The Laundry Truck LA.
Before COVID-19, DOLAN primarily made stylish metallic dresses, flowing blouses, and floral skirts. But everything changed in March 2020, when the pandemic hit. The DOLAN team immediately began making face masks, and from there, the brand began pivoting in an entirely new direction.
The delicate, trendy items disappeared from DOLAN’s website, and were replaced entirely with reusable PPE: scrubs, underscrubs, scrub caps, and face masks. That makes up the bulk of DOLAN’s website today, along with a few other pieces of casual clothing, like joggers and bike shorts.
A lot of DOLAN’s new clothing is made with an antimicrobial finish, which means wearers can wash them less frequently, saving water. DOLAN is definitely not the most sustainable fashion brand out there, but the company does have a few sustainability initiatives, including using some recycled fabrics, and producing a lot (but not all) of its clothes locally in LA; DOLAN also has a goal of partnering with a recycling company to recycle old DOLAN garments, and to eliminate all virgin plastic by 2025.
The Laundry Truck LA wants to ramp up mobile laundry efforts.
In the future, Dolan hopes to open more mobile laundry trucks to serve the LA area. The truck is also set to partner with the Los Angeles School District in the fall, to do laundry for children experiencing homelessness, who locals often call “the silent minority,” Dolan tells us.
“This past year has left people feeling like, ‘What do I do?’” Dolan says. “It's like a small act, whether you want to, come [volunteer and] fold clothes, or contribute, or buy something from Dolan. Whatever it is, you really are actually, literally, directly impacting people's lives.”