Homeless sleeper buses to hit the road in South Yorkshire this year

Two decommissioned double-deckers are to be converted into sleeper buses for the homeless.

Mark Whitehead, head of the not-profit group Homelessness in South Yorkshire, had the idea to convert the buses into a space that can facilitate the homeless and also be used by the local community.

“The whole idea behind it was noticing that a lot of these decommissioned buses just sit for decades in a scrapyard. Nobody really wants to do them, they think it’s a big scary project.”

Mark Whitehead – HISY

Some groups are turning long wheel base vans into camper vans, as they’re a smaller project to tackle.

The initial costs to set this up will be high, around £15,000. The project itself, however, will be fully ran by volunteers, which will help in keeping the running costs down.

One of the huge advantages of having a mobile shelter is that it doesn’t need to be governed by local councils. Another benefit of being mobile is that the group can travel to those most in need of help, as opposed to having to walk for miles to get to a soup kitchen for some food and shelter, as Mark has observed.

“What I have noticed online… is that there are some homeless mobile soup kitchens coming up with some of these buses, but they just use them for literally that. One thing.”

Mark Whitehead – HISY

Mark’s idea is to see the buses purchased to have sleeping accommodation upstairs, and downstairs to be a community area with internet access to help with social skills, work and benefits applications.

There will be shower and bathroom facilities on site, with the ambition to have healthcare professionals to visit often to give checkups to vulnerable people.

The first bus is a 1982 Leyland double decker, which set the group back £3000. The structural integrity of the bus is fantastic, with the only work required being on the interior and exterior decor.

In the evenings, there isn’t a lot of work done regarding homelessness, as the national charities are limited with their time. Many workers in these positions are paid positions as opposed to voluntary ones. Voluntary positions allow places such as soup kitchens and shelters to stay open for far longer.

“There are no safe zones for people to sit, eat, have a chat… and to get medical attention and have a shoulder to cry on after 5pm.”

Mark Whitehead – HISY

This is the first project of its degree in South Yorkshire. In the North-East Derbyshire area, similar projects have been carried out with mobile churches, but nothing of the same scale.

Similar projects have been carried out both in the UK and abroad. A project in Manchester saw a luxury band tour bus that carried the likes of Tinie Tempah, David Guetta, Mumford and Sons and Sam Smith, used as a mobile homeless shelter, to tackle the tenfold increase in rough sleeping since 2010.

Not everyone agrees with the idea however. Chief Executive of the Booth Centre Amanda Croome in conversation with The Guardian expressed her concerns regarding the dignity of those sleeping on the Manchester bus, and the safety of any staff.

“We have concerns about people who may have experienced complex trauma, with significant support needs, being in a really confined space. It’s not a helpful part of the solution.”

Amanda Croome to The Guardian

Another project in Australia by Melbourne entrepreneur Simon Rowe called “sleepbus” operates under the same premise, but uses a more high tech bus than the Yorkshire project and accommodates for pets and luggage storage also. This was set up to tackle the estimated 100,000 rough sleepers in Australia.

Sleepbus bus configuration

Mark has an eventual plan to purchase more buses to park up in areas in South Yorkshire where licencing is much cheaper than renting a building out, such as land where circuses and events set up. The idea is to park four buses in a square formation, nose-to-tail, and have a canopy over the space in the centre.

Doing this would also create a mobile community centre to be able to hold events and act as a youth and community club.

A huge amount of work and elbow grease will need to be put in to even have one bus ready for use, according to HISY, but through social media outreach, almost 400 people have offered their help.

Those volunteering to help range from traders, plumbers, joiners, electricians and social workers. Mark plans to have at least two of the buses roaming South Yorkshire by August this year.

The community bus project aims to bring not only the homeless and vulnerable community together, but also many partnerships between not for profits and charities.

Mark’s eventual goal with this project is to commission further buses by being a flagship model, and offering the blueprint for replicating the project outside of South Yorkshire.

The project doesn’t just benefit the homeless and other communities, but the planet also. The recycling of these buses keeps them out of the scrapyards, and Mark has ideas to have cleaner forms of energy running these buses, as opposed to them guzzling diesel and contributing to huge emissions.