A London charity has refurbished two double-decker buses to offer the city’s growing homeless population a place to wash, groom and access health care.
Change Please, a coffee shop and social enterprise, said it hoped the project would offer rough sleepers additional help and support as the winter months approach.
Guests will have the opportunity to visit a dentist, therapist and hairdresser, as well as get help from staff with practical things like opening a bank account and accessing digital training. All services will be free of charge.
The buses also include hubs where people can have virtual appointments with a doctor.
It comes after Crisis, a housing charity, warned that 100,000 renters across the UK are at risk of becoming homeless this winter.
Homelessness in London is on the rise, according to charity Crisis, which said data showed an increase of 25 per cent from April to June this year.
Organisers of the bus project hope to provide services for about 3,000 homeless men and women each year with the aim of helping them attain better hygiene and find a stable job.
Change Please is planning to launch a third bus in the coming months, to provide mental health and counselling support.
There are also discussions taking place to expand the buses to Manchester, Paris and the US.
Chief executive Cemal Ezel, 37, a former London finance worker, said the project is a “world first” that aims to “build trust, break down barriers and then lift people out of homelessness”.
“The long-term goal is really to try and break down those barriers for somebody to then exit homelessness longer term,” he said.
“From the people that we interact with on a daily basis, a lot of people say to us that they’ve become too embarrassed about looking at their reflection in a shop window when they walk past a shop window, which is hundreds of times a day, if they’re rough sleeping.
“And by providing somebody with a haircut, a shower, a change of clothes, and then they leave with a Polaroid picture of themselves, hopefully they start to remember the person that they used to be and the image of the person that they used to be, which is for us that building block back into them rebuilding their confidence and their self-belief, again to try to have that end-goal of them reintegrating back into society and leaving long-term homelessness.”
Rough sleepers will be able to send a text to request a bus comes to them so they can access health care.
By bringing the bus to rough sleepers who send texts asking for help, they hope to tackle health problems before they worsen.
“Someone might be sitting there with a tumour, or growth somewhere, or a black toe, or persistent cough, or a pain in their arm or something like that, and their level of confidence, self-esteem, self-belief, self-worth is so low that actually they just put it to one side,” Mr Ezel said.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan attended a launch ceremony on Thursday morning to cut a ribbon before World Homeless Day on Sunday.
He posted photos of himself on Twitter, chatting to staff on board the buses, saying: “Proud to be supporting their innovative work.”
The project is funded by proceeds from Change Please’s coffee business, which trains homeless people as baristas and provides support to help them on to further employment.
NHS England is also providing some funding for doctor appointments one day a week as part of a pilot. Project sponsors include Colgate, HSBC UK and MasterCard UK & Ireland.
It is hoped that the buses will be able to start offering coronavirus vaccinations from early 2022.
The buses will run six days a week over the next two years, with each bus supporting a minimum of six people a day and costing £22,000 ($30,000) a month to run.