Laundry Truck LA helps homeless people stay clean, DOLAN clothing company sews free masks amid coronavirus

L.A is creating temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness. About 40 are in the works, and they’re mainly in city-owned recreation centers. The city will also keep winter shelters open that were supposed to close in March. These shelters will have beds (all six feet apart), food, and access to showers. Also on site: free laundry. 

Jodie Dolan runs The Laundry Truck LA , which helps some of the shelters. It sprouted out of her clothing brand, DOLAN .  

“Being in business in L.A. for 15 years … we discovered this need for laundry around this community. And basically we built a 16 foot trailer a year ago. It goes out, does laundry seven days a week, and we just basically do as much free laundry as we can for as many people as we can serve,” she says. “And now the city has asked us to ramp up the services so that we can be supporting these additional 6,000 beds that they have committed to because of the coronavirus.” 

Dolan says her laundry truck has been operating for one year. It has five washers and dryers, which handle 30-40 loads in a five-hour shift. Dolan is fundraising for a second truck. 

Washers and dryers inside the Laundry Truck LA. Credit: The Laundry Truck LA.

She parks the truck on different sites each day, and people show up to do their laundry for free. 

“We go to the same spot. So every Monday, we'll be at MacArthur Park. … We do have the consistency of a location so that people … can count on us,” she says. “And we can also show up with additional services like outreach workers, and caseworkers, and showers, and all the additional auxiliary services are usually surrounding the laundry.”

She runs her truck in daytime and nighttime shifts to cover the regular sites plus the new temporary shelters, Dolan says. 

“Now it's obviously really critical that we’re there. Life and death, frankly. … It's really hard for this community to stay clean. … It's not obviously just laundry, but it's all the resources surrounding them to make sure that they're in a clean environment,” says Dolan. 

A woman handling a bag of laundry, from inside the Laundry Truck LA. Credit: The Laundry Truck LA.

Meanwhile, because retail shops (among many other businesses) have shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dolan’s clothing company is feeling some economic turmoil too. 

“We work with a lot of amazing boutiques. We have our online business. But we also work with a lot of large retailers, which are really feeling this right now. So Anthropologie, and Nordstrom, and Bloomingdales. They all are closing their doors -- the retail stores anyway. It's really important to say that their online business is still alive and well. So we're trying to navigate the sea of this because it's very challenging. Nobody wants to take in new orders for their stores.”

Dolan says her clothing company is “getting cancelations left and right.”

But she’s confident her team will get through it. “We have a really smart team and a really talented team. But for the foreseeable future, we did have to let a bunch of people go last week, and I'm hoping to be able to bring them all back for the next season.”

To keep busy for now, Dolan says she did bring in people to create face masks (not medical-grade) that the city requested -- to support family-owned grocery stores and food banks. Her company is donating those masks. 

Jodie Dolan wearing a face mask. Credit: DOLAN. 

Face masks that Jodie Dolan’s team has made and will donate. Credit: DOLAN. 

-- Written by Amy Ta, produced by Sarah Sweeney and Alex Tryggvadottir