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This Free Laundromat Has a Famous Sponsor: the Pope

Rome’s homeless people will be able to do their laundry on the Vatican’s dime

These washing machines represent dignity for homeless people in Rome. (Whirlpool EMEA)
smithsonian.com

Being homeless is dangerous and difficult. But finding shelter isn’t the only logistical challenge people who can’t afford a permanent residence face. Basic tasks like doing laundry can become an insurmountable and expensive challenge if you live on the street. But for some homeless people in Rome, that’s about to change—thanks to the pope.

As Adele Peters reports for Fast Company, Pope Francis just opened up a free laundromat in Rome aimed at helping homeless people clean their clothing. It’s the latest in a series of papal initiatives to improve the lives of poor people—and one that addresses a major challenge faced by people who don’t have facilities in which to wash or dry what little clothing they own.

The laundromat, “Lavanderia di Papa Francesco,” which is run by volunteers from an organization of non-ordained Catholics called the Community of Sant'Egidio​, is in central Rome. In a press release from Whirlpool, which donated the facility’s six washing machines and six dryers, the company says that volunteers will launder clothing and blankets of anyone who can’t afford to do so.

In a statement, the Vatican’s almoner—a man named Konrad Krajewski who carries out the pope’s acts of charity—says that the laundry is a direct response to calls from the Pope to show “concrete signs of solidarity to our brothers and sisters in need.” The Religion News Service’s Junno Arocho Esteves reports that in the future, visitors to the building the laundromat is located in, will also get a chance to shower, get a haircut, and receive medical treatment and essential goods. It’s all part of an ongoing initiative to uphold the dignity of society’s most overlooked and impoverished people.

Dirty and worn clothing plays into the stigma around homelessness, though not all homeless people show visible signs of their inability to find shelter. Even for people who have shelter, gentrification can push laundromats out, making clean clothing a luxury. Peters notes that in the U.S. and around the world, free laundry facilities are gaining steam as a way to provide basic dignity to people who don’t have permanent shelter.

You could argue that dignity—be it clean clothing, a showered body, or just being treated like a human being—is a basic human need. It seems simple, but for people faced with the overwhelming stress of poverty, nothing ever is.

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