October-November 2018 | Features

All aboard the Rotary Shelter Bus

All aboard the Rotary Shelter Bus

It is a novel approach addressing the growing problem of homelessness. Get hold of a double decker bus, convert it, and create a mobile shelter. Rodney Howell reports how this Rotary-led project is working in Birmingham. Please note the image above is an artist’s impression of how the finished bus may look.

The sight of folk sleeping rough in the streets of our towns and cities is becoming more commonplace.

More than 300,000 people in Britain – equivalent to one in every 200 – are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate homes, according to figures released by the charity Shelter.

Using official government data and freedom of information returns from local authorities, it estimates that 307,000 people are sleeping rough, or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms or hostels.

Although rough sleepers are the more visible end of homelessness, it is estimated that more than 60% of those who are homeless do not show up in official figures.

This is especially true for single people who hold down a job but, for a variety of reasons, have no home of their own.

The plight of the homelessness in the heart of England’s second city has prompted Birmingham Breakfast Rotary to try to make a difference in a unique way – a mobile hostel using a bus!

The original idea was to set up a hostel but, when it was realised that the point of need could move around the city, it was decided that a suitably equipped bus could be much more effective.

So, in January 2017 plans for the first Rotary Shelter Bus began, featuring a team led by Rotaractor, Luca Buratti – son of Birmingham Breakfast member, Angelo Buratti – and including District Governor, Gary Dancer.

National Express West Midlands donated the club a double decker bus.

luca buratti rotary shelter bus homeless project

Luca Buratti (above), one of the Shelter Bus team volunteers, with the donated National Express West Midlands bus ready for refurbishment

Now the plan is to strip all its seats and fixtures, before being converted into an overnight shelter with 10 sleeping pods, a kitchen, a consultation room, two shower/toilet facilities and a dining area.

The refurbishment will be carried out in Sheffield at a cost of around £37,000.  This will be met by an online fund-raising website, a grant from The Rotary Foundation and sponsorship. Clubs, businesses and individuals can sponsor a pod, with a plaque recognising their gift placed outside the bus.

One of the project’s trustees, Courtney Patrick, revealed that work would soon get under way. She said: “The bus has not yet been converted as we are still fund-raising at this point. We will not be converting the bus until the partnership with the local council and a charity partner is formally established.

“This partnership is an integral part of the business model, and we want to ensure that all donor funds are being utilised in the right part of the project.

“The bus is currently being stored with one of the trustees and is ready to be converted upon signing formal documentation.”

The initiative has already attracted the interest of Thierry Dufour, Managing Director of Jewson, who said: “Converting a bus into a mobile homeless shelter for rough sleepers is an amazing idea and it is something I would like to follow up and get involved with.”

A further £13,000 is needed for soft furnishings as well as insurance and other overheads, because the Rotary Shelter Bus is more than just a place to lay your head. It’s a home, albeit temporary.

Our vision is that there will be Rotary Shelter Buses all over the UK, helping to alleviate the rough sleeping problem nationwide.”

The hope is that the Rotary Shelter Bus will be on the road later this year. The not-for-profit’s trustees are currently reaching out to local authorities and homeless charities across Greater Birmingham to build partnerships to manage the shelter.

“Once the bus is converted through the funding received, the trustees will hand the bus over to our charity/council partner,” added Courtney.

“They will be responsible for the day-to-day operations and management of care of the bus, including driving the bus to the locations.

“The Rotary Shelter Bus team will assist with continuous fundraising and agreeing corporate advertising sponsorships to support the costs incurred, as well as supporting the charity partner with any other concerns.

“It’s vital that we hand over the care and safeguarding of boarders to professionals that are qualified to give the highest standard of care.”

Every day, the Rotary Shelter Bus will travel across Greater Birmingham, ensuring all areas of the community are served.

The Rotary Shelter Bus will be free to all potential guests.

rotary shelter bus supporting homeless floor plan

The Rotary Shelter Bus will contain sleeping pods, kitchen and bathing facilities.

In addition to accommodation, every visitor will be provided with a hot meal, shower facilities, as well as an initial consultation to determine necessary care resources.

This could be the first of many Rotary Shelter Buses on the road. Courtney revealed that as word has got out, they have already been contacted by other Rotary clubs in their district, as well as from London and Lancashire.

She added: “Our vision is that there will be Rotary Shelter Buses all over the UK, helping to alleviate the rough sleeping problem nationwide.

“Homelessness and rough sleeping isn’t just affecting Birmingham, it’s a societal issue everywhere in the UK.

“Once we get this pilot launched, we’ll hit the ground running sourcing additional buses and promoting the concept throughout the UK.”

Find out more about the Rotary Shelter Bus on their website.

Please note the feature image is an artist’s impression of how the finished bus may look.

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