Perspectives of the Laundromat


A personal reflection from Laura Gillespie, Director of Development and Communications at the Haven:

Just before Christmas, I was preparing my home for the holiday influx of family and friend house guests. As I was making beds, changing and washing sheets, I went to switch a load of laundry and found a washing machine full of water. I started the load again, hoping that the spin cycle would kick in. Needless to say, when the cycle was complete, there was once again a big load of sheets in a front-loading machine that had not drained and remained full of water. I booked a service call, but was given a date after Christmas. No surprise given the holiday that I wouldn’t have instant gratification repair.

After unloading the sopping wet sheets and mopping up the floor, I took my laundry to the laundromat across the street from the Haven. I figured I could get a few loads of laundry done while at work, running across the street as needed to move the laundry to the dryer. Haven guests are regulars at the laundromat. Its location is a blessing for the individuals and families living in the shelter. I, however, hadn’t needed to use a laundromat in years; I am fortunate to have a reliable washer and dryer in my home.

I made two rookie mistakes: I forgot to bring detergent and I didn’t have enough quarters to run all the laundry I brought with me. My wallet, back in my office, had dollar bills so I was able to return to the Haven and retrieve some dollars, then buy a mini box of detergent and use the change machine to get more quarters. I need about $12 in quarters to run the laundry I brought with me. I finally got everything I needed and completed a couple of loads.

A few days later, the house was full and a pile of clothing, towels, and more had accumulated. Back to the laundromat…. I was equipped with detergent and plenty of quarters. I thought I would whip through a couple of loads more quickly this time, but one machine ate $4 in quarters and neglected to start the cycle. For good measure, I added two more quarters in case I had miscounted. Four dollars and fifty cents gone and I need to switch the laundry to a different machine. I got two loads going, but now was short quarters for the dryer and had to run back for more cash to finish the drying. Again, the process was time-consuming and frustrating. I realized that having a washer and dryer in my house was a luxury I took for granted. Even though the laundromat is convenient to the Haven, our guests have to spend a lot of time and money to ensure clean clothes, towels, and bedding for themselves and their children. I felt a lot of empathy for Haven guests and anyone living without laundry facilities.

My washing machine was repaired in an hour on December 29th. I had made three trips to the laundromat to manage holiday laundry for my house. I was delighted that the laundromat owner promptly returned my phone call when I reported the broken washing machine and refunded my lost quarters. I had more cash with me the day those quarters disappeared and I wondered how someone would have felt if they had lost their last dollars.

I am fortunate to have a warm home, reliable transportation, enough food to eat, and a good job that allows me to pay for what I need and more. The broken washing machine was one small toe dip into the struggles and frustrations that people living in poverty deal with every day.

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