A mobile laundry unit launched in Athens by the nonprofit group Ithaca more than one year ago has helped restore the self-esteem and dignity of more than two thousand homeless people in the Greek capital.
Consisting of two washers and dryers mounted in a van, and staffed by Ithaca Laundry staff and volunteers, the mobile unit services at least 30 people or families every single day that it is in operation on the streets of the city.
Launched with the support of The Hellenic Initiative (THI), the global nonprofit secular institution mobilizing the Greek diaspora and philhellenes to invest in the future of Greece, the unit collects dirty clothes from people who are living on the streets and returns them clean and dry.
Clean, presentable clothes greatly improve the personal and living conditions of the homeless, says Ithaca’s team member Konstantina Geka. “We believe that cleanliness leads to dignity, and dignity leads to new opportunities,” she says.
“There are homeless people who prefer clean clothes rather than a hot meal,” adds Ithaca Laundry van driver Leonidas Koutikas.
Koutikas, a construction painter by profession, lost his job during the financial crisis which hit Greece hard in the mid 2010s. He also lost his home, and was even forced to live on the streets of central Athens before he came across Ithaca.
He is now the driver of the van which offers free laundry services to Athens’ homeless population.
“I love what I am doing now, because I feel I am helping the people that are in the same position I was in a few years ago,” he says with feeling.
Access to laundry service gives people who have been hit hardest by the Greek economic and social crisis a better chance to re-integrate into society by providing them clean clothes for the job application process. It also makes it possible for them to confidently take their next steps, such as guidance and counseling.
The Ithaca Laundry service has directly helped another Greek who lost his home due to the crisis, Konstantinos Gotas. He now feels more positive about his job prospects. He relates that in the past, he was forced to attend job interviews wearing dirty clothes. He was rejected for positions on each one of those occasions.
“Together with food and shelter, the the third basic necessity is cleanliness,” says Ithaca team member Nikos Vamvakas. “Wearing clean clothes for a job interview gives a much better impression.”
The Ithaca Laundry, launched by four young Athenians, so far has washed more than 10,000 loads of laundry, and has delivered a total of more than 60 tons of clean clothing for displaced citizens.
Following an agreement with the Athens municipality, the necessary water and electricity for the operation of the mobile unit is provided completely free of charge.
The mobile nature of its services allows Ithaca volunteers to move wherever and whenever there is a need. In that way, Ithaca can approach and serve many people who are often unwilling to leave their spots and go to places which do not have access to sanitation services (e.g. accommodation centers, improvised settlements, squats etc.)
This novel operating model also allows Ithaca to keep its costs low, as it pays no rent and can avoid many operating costs.
Marina Sikla is a volunteer who has donated her time to the Ithaca Laundry mobile service, devoting two days each and every week to helping the homeless. “I think if there is love for your fellow being and willingness to help, everything will improve,” she states.
The Hellenic Initiative announced in June of 2019 that they would issue another grant of $10,000 to support the organization’s noble endeavors for a second consecutive year.