Through laundry, help group aims to connect with homeless people in Reno

At 11 a.m. on a Friday, the LaunderLand Laundromat on Wells Ave. near the Midtown area of ​​Reno is quiet. Only the sounds of one or two spinning washing machines fill the air, as a man sits on a bench, dangling his feet.

An hour later, the laundry is transformed. In front of the store windows, people share slices of pizza and donated bagels. The dogs scurry between large sacks full of laundry, raising their heads to scratch. Color-safe bleach, Pine-Sol concentrate, detergent pods and dryer sheets are right on the counter – available to anyone who needs it.

The pungent smell of cleaning supplies wafts through the laundromat as three volunteers help load the washing machines with coats, blankets and other items, checking with people the temperature of the water for different loads and laying down questions about housing situations or support services.

The volunteers are part of Laundry to the People, a mutual aid organization (or a group where people work cooperatively to meet the needs of the community) providing free laundry services each week to homeless people in Reno.

In the grand scheme of Reno’s housing crisis and growing income inequality, helping people with laundry services may not solve the root causes of a problem, but it can make the difference in sustaining a job or feel more comfortable, said Rosie Zuckerman, one of the three co-founders of Laundry to the People.

“It’s definitely a bandage,” Zuckerman said. “But it’s a little thing I can do. At least I know someone can have clean clothes and not have to wear dirty socks and dirty underwear, or a musty-smelling blanket. . “

Inspired by the desire to reduce waste and help others access clean, dry clothes, Zuckerman and his co-founders Ilya Arbatman and Àlex Muñoz Viso started the organization almost a year ago. At first, Arbatman said they would pick up people’s belongings in a van and take them back to the laundromat, but after the encampment sweeps, the organization could no longer maintain the practice. Instead, the organizers disseminated information about the location through word of mouth or flyers.

“Everyone is welcome to come do their laundry,” said Arbatman. “We pay for it, provide detergent, the laundromat nicely pays for the drying. [It’s] generally targeting the homeless community and those in need, but we are not turning anyone away. “

Other aid organizations and donations from community members cover the financial costs of the approximately 10 to 25 people who show up each week to wash their clothes. Arbatman added that having a consistent laundry schedule can add stability to chaotic schedules and allow for a real connection.

“You might be able to help someone by giving them a meal and stuff, but it’s really only by getting to know someone that you will not only discover the kinds of things they need, but also the types of services he might be more likely to meet, ”Arbatman said.

Muñoz Viso said he appreciates the opportunity to help others and spend time getting to know the people who come to the laundromat, whether it’s a regular or just passing by for the first time.

“Most of the people we do laundry with, we know them and we talk to them every week,” Munoz said. “You ask them, ‘Hey, how are you? Then you make jokes with them. But I mean, it’s normal. We are humans. “

Àlex Muñoz Viso loads laundry at a laundromat near Wells Avenue in Reno on Friday, November 19, 2021 (David Calvert / The Nevada Independent)

David Tondreau heard about Muñoz Viso’s laundry services. Recently evicted from his home after a three-week hospital stay left him unable to pay his bills, Tondreau said the trip to the laundromat is now a constant in his schedule.

“I’ve been thinking about it all week,” Tondreau said. “I really don’t associate with too many people.”

Arbatman and Zuckerman have lived in Reno for about six years. Meanwhile, they watched the cost of housing rise as social services struggled to keep up. They reflect on how a single hospital bill or a rent increase can make the difference between living in a house or living on the streets.

“In doing this job, you meet a lot of different people in a lot of different positions,” Arbatman said. “Rather than assume that they screwed this up for themselves, assume not, in fact they are able to get somewhere better, but where they are right now, without help, it might not be. realistically possible. It’s going to take a lot more than an ‘I can do’ attitude. “

Ilya Arbatman walks out of a laundromat near Wells Avenue in Reno on Friday, November 19, 2021 (David Calvert / The Nevada Independent)

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