Marcus Harris knows what it’s like to be down on his luck. He also knows how to pay it forward.
Harris spent 14 years in prison and when he got out, he spent time living on the streets as he worked to get his life back on track.
After struggling for years, he found a job at Bayaud Enterprises — a Denver organization devoted to finding jobs for people with disabilities and those living in poverty — working as an advocate for the poor.
In 2015, Bayaud sent him to San Francisco on a fact-finding mission to see what the city was doing to help its homeless community. It was a trip that changed Harris’ life.
Harris brought the idea back to Scott Kerr, Bayaud’s director of employment and opportunity center. The two met with homeless advocates in Denver and came up with their own idea — build a mobile laundromat that used fire hydrants to access water.
“We felt that access to laundry services was an untapped need in the community,” Kerr said. “All too often, people in our community are turned away from a potential job simply because they don’t have clean clothes.”
The next step in building the mobile laundry truck involved working with Denver Water, which manages more than 15,500 fire hydrants in Denver.
“When Bayaud approached us with their mobile laundry truck idea, we said, ‘absolutely we can help,’” said Bryan Campbell, Denver Water meter shop field supervisor.
Campbell and a team from Denver Water worked with Bayaud to get a permit to access city hydrants and a connection device complete with a dolly, hose, backflow preventer, plumbing fittings and a hydrant wrench.
With the truck ready to go, Bayaud rolled out the mobile laundromat in April.
“Access to fire hydrants gives us the ability to operate in any neighborhood in the city,” Harris said. “We get a wide variety of people using the service, including people living on the streets, families, single moms and homeless veterans.”
Denver Water also provided funding for six high-efficiency washing machines.
“The machines and the laundry process are very water-efficient,” Campbell said. “Bayaud’s staff weighs all the clothes to make sure every wash uses a full load.”
The water-saving measures ensure the truck can stay on location as long as possible before having to leave to drain the wastewater tanks.
Having clean clothes encourages people to apply for jobs and helps keep them employed, according to Kerr.
“Over 50 percent of the people who experience homelessness have jobs,” he said. “Having clean clothes gives people confidence to get back into the workforce.”
The truck visits neighborhood centers, churches, parks and libraries.
“It’s a great service,” said Edwin Rose, a homeless Air Force veteran. “I recently had a job interview, and it was great having clean clothes.”
The truck also stops at Denver elementary schools. “We found that many children don’t go to class because they don’t have clean clothes,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, many families struggle to put food on the table and pay rent so they can’t afford to pay for laundry.”
The truck also has six dryers to make sure the clothes are ready to be worn. “When we see people pick up their warm, fluffy clothes and see the smiles on their faces, it’s awesome,” Harris said.
The laundry truck visits two to three locations each week and can clean up to 40 loads of clothes during an eight-hour shift.
Workers also provide information about employment opportunities to people who stop by the truck.
“We’d like to think this truck helps people dream again,” Harris said. “This service lets people know that their voices are being heard and that this community does care about them.”