Echo Park churches face challenges starting free laundry program for the homeless

Aroma Laundry on Alvarado Street, where St. Athanasius Episcopal Church and Echo Park United Methodist Church will begin sponsoring free laundry once a month./PHOTO BY Barry Lank

Aroma Laundry | Barry Lank


ECHO PARK — It seems obvious but one of the most useful things you can do for the homeless is help them get their laundry done. And one of the hardest things is to get them into the laundromat.

That’s the challenge facing St. Athanasius Episcopal Church and Echo Park United Methodist Church as they begin their local version of the nationwide Laundry Love program every third Tuesday of the month, starting this Tuesday, April 19.

They’re offering free use of washers and driers for the homeless from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Or just low-income residents. Or, really, just anyone who shows up and needs it.  During the past dozen years, the Laundry Love  program has washed 600,000 loads of laundry free of charge and helped more than 450,000 people, according to the organization.

That sounds like a service that sells itself. But James Barnes — owner of Aroma Laundry in the 1400 block of Alvarado Street, where the churches are starting their program — has already had students from Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta running a Laundry Love program every third Saturday of the month. It’s been uphill work.

“Some students would drive to encampments by the 101 or Vons,” Barnes said. “But most of the homeless don’t have a way to get here, and they don’t want to leave their stuff. We even had an Uber driver volunteer to drive people to the laundry.” But no takers.

The problem goes beyond the students’ event, according to Nicole Lee, president of the Crescenta Valley High School club.

“Being that [the homeless] only have what’s on their backs, if we outreached a few blocks away, that distance might not be something they are willing to walk,” Lee said. “We did reach out to numerous organizations to direct crowds our way, but they had the same issue.”

So, when asked how the churches plan to get people in the door,  Frank M. Alton, the provost at St. Athanasius, responded, “That’s a good question. … We haven’t done it yet. We don’t know how well it’s doing to go.”

At least the second biggest challenge for this kind of project has been solved — finding a laundromat that would participate. Rev. Alton said the churches approached two other businesses before finding Aroma Laundry.

“The others said no,” Alton said. “The two we went to were scared.”

Barnes, by contrast, said he had already been tossing around the idea for this kind of event himself, even before Crescenta Valley High first approached him last summer.

“I feel pretty lucky in my life, and I try to give back where I can,” Barnes said.

For this first event Tuesday, the church will have eight to 10 volunteers at the laundromat, going around paying for the laundry with money cards — though, Alton notes, that’s probably more volunteers than will be needed for this first night of the program.

One  challenge has been relatively minor – raising money to pay for the laundry. Fundraising has brought in enough cash for the first couple of months, Alton said. A Korean congregation is already filling in its second big can of quarters for the program.

Still, if you drop by Aroma on Tuesday and have more than enough money for your own washing and drying, donations are welcome, Alton said.

Barry Lank grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, then went away for a seriously long time. He has worked in TV and radio, and currently helps produce The Final Edition Radio Hour.

A collection box at Aroma Laundry./PHOTO BY Barry Lank

Collection box at Aroma Laundry | Barry Lank

Screenshot 2015-12-10 at 3.10.51 PM

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  1. THIS is the kind of business owner we LOVE! Thank you for sharing your fortune with those in need:)

  2. Props to Fr. Frank Alton and St. Athanasius!

  3. Food – pizza or something similar and inexpensive – bring a load of laundry and get free food. Some fun activity while washing – donuts – whatever. I spent 10 years running a free laundry service for people with HIV/AIDS. When I needed a crowd – especially of people who didn’t have a lot of resources, I offered free food and some fun – silly (or good if I could get them donated) prizes for contests. A chance to socialize in a safe place.

    • We are on the same wavelength! As I was reading, I was thinking about my comment to include food to entice people to come. The church can accept donations. I wonder if they are getting any from any of the local schools. There is a movement to prevent food waste and since liabilities have been lifted from schools, they are now allowed to donate leftover food without any worry (just a bunch of paperwork and arrangements).

  4. The City will find a way to put the kibosh on this.

  5. Charles M Shorty

    The homeless want to be left alone. They don’t get the same pleasure you and I do from getting a clean bed sheet or socks. The same dysfunction that keeps them on the street trumps any semblance of what “normal” people desire.

    I know your hearts are in the right place but these people need heavy pharmacological intervention and psychological evaluations, not clean socks.

    If you really want a long term solution, encourage the leaders of this city to re-implement mental healthcare hospitals.

    • I don’t think it’s either/or. Two things need to happen to solve the problem: strong vision, leadership and action at a city level for long-term change, and community activation such as Laundry Love to provide short-term comfort for those that want it.

    • I don’t think it’s either/or. Two things need to happen to solve the problem: strong vision, leadership and action at a city level for long-term change, and community activation such as Laundry Love to provide short-term comfort for those that want it.

      • Charles M Shorty

        Sorry to burst your bubble but if you actually read the article, the actions of both parties are commonplace. People want to help- but the type of help being offered is not wanted. The people offering help are attempting to do good but they (homeless) don’t accept it. —- because they don’t really need clean laundry! They need medicine and healthcare.

        Sorry to say it but these “good deeds” only make one party feel better about themselves. The heart is in the right place but these people could give a shit about clean socks given their circumstances.

        • Yes and no. You are correct that many do not want clean clothes but need medicine or health care. But many do want clean clothes. I work 2 doors down from the church and see the very people we are talking about here on a daily basis. I have a few who come to me to get clean clothes. The dirty ones are being thrown in the trash after I give them new clothes. They do care how they look and are quite stylish.

  6. Is it every 3rd Tuesday AND every 3rd Saturday of the month at the same facility??? I have a ton of clients that could really benefit from this if I have the correct info.

    • Every 3rd Tuesday but the 3rd Saturday of May will be the last since the high school group does not sponsor during the summer.

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