Upgraded London buses will offer a “one-stop” service offering homeless haircuts, doctors’ appointments, showers and financial advice to help them get off the streets.
Two buses have been recycled for the purpose of providing direct support to more than 3,000 people a year who sleep hard in the capital.
The project of the non-profit organization Change Please will provide access to virtual GPs, haircuts, on-site dental care, showers, assessment for therapy and help to open a bank account and find jobs.
It aims to address the barriers that prevent people from leaving the streets and help them on their way to a stable job.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan cut a ribbon for the launch of the Driving For Change project and toured the buses on Thursday morning ahead of World Homeless Day on Sunday.
He said that “as the son of a bus driver, I am so proud to see our buses being used in this way”.
He told the PA news agency: “I am incredibly proud that the double-decker buses that my father used to drive are used for this really good purpose.
“A good example that you know that our buses are important lifelines for Londoners.
“And in fact, many people in our city trust our buses, many hard sleepers will be really happy to get into these buses because they know that buses provide an important service.”
Khan said he is concerned that society is facing a “perfect storm” as the Universal Credit raise is removed, alongside the end of the deadline scheme and rising prices and taxes.
He said: “I am concerned that more and more Londoners will be driven into poverty and that is why it is so important for big charities and social enterprises (to be) to help, but in fact it is the job of the government to step in and provide the safety net.
“And I’m really worried – we’ve had a lot of blisters and jokes from the Prime Minister this week at the Tory conference, but no real answers to some of the challenges that many people in our country face.”
The project is funded by revenues from Change Please’s coffee company, which trains homeless people as baristas and provides support to help them further their employment.
NHS England also provides some funding to GPs one day a week as part of a pilot.
It is hoped that the buses will be able to start offering coronavirus vaccinations from the beginning of 2022.
The buses run six days a week over the next two years, with each bus supporting at least six people a day and costing £ 22,000 a month to run.
Rough sleepers will be able to send a text to request that a bus come to them so they can access health care.
Change Please plans to launch a third bus in the coming months that will provide mental health and counseling.
There are also discussions taking place to roll out the buses to Manchester, Paris and the US.
The organization’s CEO, Cemal Ezel, told the PA that the project is a “world first” aimed at “building trust, breaking down barriers and then lifting people out of homelessness”.
The 37-year-old from Peckham, south-east London, a former financial worker in the city, said: “The long-term goal is really to try to break down these barriers for someone and then leave homelessness in the long run.
“From the people we interact with on a daily basis, many people tell us that they have become too embarrassed to look at their reflection in a shop window as they walk by, which is hundreds of times a day if they sleep hard.
“And by giving someone 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 they used to be and the picture of that person , they used to be, which is for us the building block left in those who rebuild their confidence and their self-confidence, again to try to get the ultimate goal of being integrated back into society and leaving homelessness in the long run. ”
By bringing the bus to rough thresholds, sending texts asking for help, they hope to tackle health issues before they get worse.
Project sponsors include Colgate, HSBC UK and Mastercard UK & Ireland.