Queensland’s first sleep bus has arrived to offer emergency beds to homeless people on the Sunshine Coast, as support agencies struggle to help an avalanche of people caught in the housing crisis.
The $100,000 bus has been financed from community donations through a campaign that began when homeless man David Collin was killed in his sleeping bag at Maroochydore in 2019.
Mark Ellis, the community development coordinator at the Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre, felt compelled to provide safe beds in an area that has no homeless shelter for men.
He said although the bus was not a long or even medium-term housing solution, it would give some respite to people in crisis.
“Because they’re so, so sleep deprived, you know, a few nights’ good sleep in a bed, their mental health will improve, which will improve their physical health,” Mr Ellis said.
‘I’m not a bum’
Peter McNeill hopes to be one of the first to sleep in the bus when it opens on January 21.
Mr McNeill said he had been homeless for nearly five years after quitting his Bunnings job due to ill health.
He said Ross River fever from a mosquito bite developed into chronic fatigue, leaving him unable to work for more than an hour or two without needing to lie down.
“There’s some people out there who think, ‘Oh, you’re just a bum, but I’m not a bum. You know, I’m not … a well person,” he said.
Mr McNeill was on the public housing wait list and had been offered rental assistance, but he was unable to find an affordable rental in the current market.
He described the bus as “absolutely brilliant” and “a blessing from God”.
“It’ll give me the luxury of feeling safe when I’m sleeping,” Mr McNeill said.
How it works
The Maroochydore bus has eight double pods which can sleep eight single people or more if there are couples or relatives.
It will be parked in Maroochydore at a council-approved spot, and doors open between 8.30pm and 10.30pm for “onboarding”, with wake up from 7am.
Sleep buses usually fills their spots on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Melbourne founder and chief executive of Sleepbus, Simon Rowe, said dogs would also be allowed.
“We have one rule, which is the quiet enjoyment rule.
“So, we don’t care what your condition is, what you’ve got with you, a pet, whatever — we just need your name and you can have a quiet night’s sleep.”
Mr Rowe converted the bus himself after it was donated by transport company CDC.
The sleep pods have air conditioning, reading lights, USB charging points, a small toilet and even an iPad for sleepers to catch up on TV programs.
Volunteers will be required to clean the bedding, but Mr Rowe said he’d had 50 people signing up wanting to help.
The bus will also have a volunteer caretaker who will sleep onboard in another pod.
“So, they stay on the front of the bus in their own cabin, it’s quite a big cabin, they’ve got security cameras so they can see what’s going on,” Mr Rowe said.
He said all the guests would also have a little walkie talkie.
“So, if they want to communicate, they can do that.”
The blue bus will be open to anyone who needs a bed, but a pink bus for women has also been ordered and will arrive mid-year.
Mr Ellis said the need for emergency housing was continuing to grow in the region, with many unable to afford rent increases.
“I had a 73-year-old woman come in on December 22. She had been homeless for four months,” he said.
“To the department’s credit, the next day, she was actually housed because a 73-year-old woman sleeping rough on the street is not on.”
Mr Ellis said government investment in housing was needed.
“I think the federal government needs to actually start looking at it seriously and pump some serious money into it, otherwise … we’ve got a serious problem as it is but it’s going to get even worse.”
Sleep buses gain momentum
The Queensland bus follows others in Melbourne, Canberra and neighbouring Queanbeyan in New South Wales.
Mr Ellis said the Maroochydore fundraising efforts had inspired other communities and sleep buses had been ordered for Hervey Bay, Byron Bay and Taree.
“I feel like a proud dad really. To see the bus here and having a few of the people that have experienced homelessness coming and having a look at the bus is a great thing.”
Source: Thanks msn.com