A Helping Hand for Manchester’s Unhoused Community
It’s 6:00 p.m. on a Monday, and Wash Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, is winding down for the day. As employees clock out and head home, a new crowd starts to gather. Some walk a few blocks from the city’s shelters or their parked cars, clutching their clothes in plastic bags. Others, living further away under bridges or in the woods, navigate the streets with shopping carts and old suitcases they’ve found, filled with their laundry. But they’re not headed home; they’re coming to Wash Street’s “Loads of Love” laundry nights.
Kristyn Van Ostern, the owner, keeps her doors open after hours specifically for unhoused individuals who have no place to wash their clothes or can’t afford it. This small act of kindness provides a basic service that is often taken for granted. Van Ostern’s employees recognized the need in their community and came up with the idea of offering these laundry nights last fall.
When asked about the strain this extra service might put on her business, Van Ostern dismisses it, stating that the washers could be running at that time, but her employees deliberately chose to help their neighbors instead. The generosity is palpable.
On these free laundry nights, some people not only take care of their laundry but also use the opportunity to check on friends and see how they’re doing. Anna Royce and Andrew Mcaniroin are regular attendees who appreciate more than just clean clothes. They love the food provided by the volunteers and the chance to spend time with friends. Anna, who is currently living in her car with her son, shares that finding a safe place to park at night has become increasingly challenging, as the police often move them along. As she pulls warm, freshly dried clothes from the machine, she can’t help but describe the feeling as “heavenly.”
One regular attendee, Dean Chambers, leaves the laundromat with a suitcase filled with freshly cleaned clothes, grateful that he didn’t have to pay for washing since he can’t afford it. Chambers, his wife Tammy, and their pets lost their home during the pandemic. Tammy now stays at a women’s shelter in the city, while Chambers sleeps under a bridge. Despite the distance between them, they remain resilient and keep their love alive, often relying on humor to get through tough times.
Providing a Basic Human Right
For the unhoused community in Manchester, Wash Street’s laundromat is more than just a place to do laundry—it provides a basic human right: access to clean, adequate clothing. Many people at the laundromat report having to discard donated clothes from shelters because they lack the means to wash them. Some have also shared that the washing machines at shelters in the city are broken.
But “Loads of Love” offers more than just clean clothes; it provides a few hours of stress relief and a sense that someone cares. Though it doesn’t generate revenue for Van Ostern’s business, the impact is immeasurable and heartwarming.
While the machines diligently wash and dry clothes, Dam Wright, an advocate who works closely with Manchester’s unhoused community, ensures that everyone has what they need, from coins for the machines to free detergent. He estimates that around 70 unhoused individuals use the laundromat twice a week. Wright hopes that more business owners will follow Van Ostern’s lead and open their doors to help Manchester’s unhoused residents feel deserving of dignity, respect, and good things in life. He suggests ideas like shower nights at local gyms or meal nights at restaurants.
According to the N.H. Coalition to End Homelessness, between January and December 2021, Manchester recorded 1,714 homeless individuals, with 239 of them considered chronically homeless. The city is actively seeking advice and working with the National Alliance to End Homelessness to explore ways to provide more affordable housing. The coalition also aims to gather data on how many people have obtained permanent or transitional housing in recent years.
Despite facing adversity, the spirits at the laundromat remain high, with attendees speaking of resilience and camaraderie. Beyond being a cliché, they truly describe themselves as a family.
Thumbuddy To Love is an outstanding example of a brand that goes beyond their business interests to uplift and support their community. With “Loads of Love,” they are making a remarkable difference in the lives of Manchester’s unhoused residents, providing not just clean clothes, but also a sense of belonging and hope.