Six months ago, it seemed Scott Kerr’s dream of starting a mobile laundry truck with Bayaud Enterprises to help the homeless was going down the drain.
Shortly after the nonprofit secured funding to outfit a truck with six washers and dryers, the parked truck was hit and severely damaged during a high-speed chase.
But thanks to the commitment of the Bayaud staff and its partners, the project kept going and, a few months late, started service April 3, washing clothes for about a dozen people participating in the Denver Day Works program that Bayaud coordinates with the city.
The new truck has washers and dryers and can connect to water lines as it travels around the city, giving the homeless an opportunity to have clean clothes. It will also give Bayaud Enterprises, which helps people with disabilities and other barriers find employment in Denver, another way to connect with the homeless community.
“I think it’s a real creative way to do something that breaks barriers to employment down. If you don’t have clean clothes, that’s a barrier,” Bayaud Enterprises executive director David Henninger said.
The truck will be rolling out slowly, operating out of Bayaud Enterprises’ home, 333 W. Bayaud Ave., and spending some time in front of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 2015 Glenarm Place. Bayaud is also looking to partner with some Denver schools that have a high population of homeless students to wash clothes there, and will look for more places to park the truck in the coming weeks.
It is also working with Denver Water to install a water meter so the truck can hook up to a fire hydrant and pay for what it uses. A full day of operation would cost about $6. The truck will be staffed by employees of Bayaud and at least one Denver Day Works worker.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Denver Water manager of conservation Jeff Tejral. “When they explained that it was part of a barrier to get a job and keep a job, that was really important (for us).”
The truck was open Monday and Thursday last week and will add more days of service in the future.
On April 7, Rich Broestler brought four loads of laundry to the truck and waited while Bayaud staff and a Denver Day Works worker moved his clothes from the washer to the dryer and even folded them when they were ready.
Broestler has lived out of his car for the last four months after three neck surgeries and four months in the hospital left him homeless. Broestler has been working with Bayaud in an effort to find work and housing. For him, these free loads of laundry will save him money and provide comfort as he can stay near his stuff and not have to worry about someone walking off with his clothes.
“It’s really handy to have this, not just from a hygiene standpoint. It saves about $10 to $15,” Broestler said. “When you don’t have (a home) and have to carry everything around with you, it’s very important for security to watch it being done. All the way around, it’s a good idea.”
While Broestler connected to Bayaud before doing his laundry, Kerr believes the truck could help others get services at Bayaud.
“We’re going to meet so many friends who don’t normally come to brick and mortar service providers who really need help,” said Kerr, the director of development and employment opportunities at Bayaud. “I know it’s really relevant, people need it and we’re going to be at capacity immediately.”
Bayaud staff has hopes to outfit a second laundry truck if the first one is successful and has ideas for a shower truck that would also serve the homeless.
The first truck was built by Denver Food Trucks, and employee Travis Fahrenholtz said that while he had heard of other laundry projects on trailers, he believes this is the first laundry truck of its kind.
“It’s very innovative,” he said.
Denver’s Road Home, a division of Denver Human Services that helps to coordinate resources for homeless providers, has supported Bayaud in starting the laundry truck and, according to communications director Julie Smith, it’s a great idea.
“As a city, one of the goals we have for everyone who may be experiencing a time when they are without a home is for them to be able to maintain a sense of dignity and to meet their basic human needs,” Smith said. “Laundry may seem like a simple thing to someone who is housed, but for someone who is homeless, it presents another challenge that is in front of them from being able to access or do other things in their life.”