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A safe sleep for the region’s homeless

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A safe sleep for the region’s homeless

A neighbourhood centre’s innovation inspires the community and philanthropists to tackle homelessness.

The Sunshine Coast has reached a major milestone in addressing homelessness with the arrival of a specialised bus to provide a safe night’s sleep for people living rough.

The region’s long-awaited first Sleepbus arrived on January 12 at the Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre (MNC) ready for service to begin on January 21.

It comes after the centre began a fundraising campaign in May 2020 following the murders of two homeless men in the area.

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Sunshine Coast residents, the project has become a reality – and has inspired similar projects in other area of Australia.

The Sleepbus features 10 secure self-contained lockable sleeping pods, complete with double bunks, clean sheets and pillows, TV, USB phone-charging ports, climate controls and access to lockable toilets.

MNC community development co-ordinator Mark Ellis, who has been instrumental in bringing the project to life, says every night the homeless face the threat of property theft, serious assault or worse as they live exposed on the streets.

While he wishes there is no need for such a bus, he is pleased to see it ready for service after a long campaign.

“It’s going to get the homeless out of the rain. It’s going to get them out of all the elements,” Mr Ellis says. “It’ll give them a place where they’re safe, where they’re not going to be harassed, they’re not going to be belted up, where they can actually get on board and have a decent night’s sleep.

Mr Ellis says it will also give people a better night’s sleep to help improve their physical and mental health over time.

“Most people who are living rough on the streets, they average around two to three hours’ sleep a night; not deep sleep, but some type of sleep, mainly because they are sleeping with one eye open and one ear open,” he says.

“If you don’t get enough sleep, your mental health deteriorates, and if your mental health deteriorates, your physical health deteriorates and then basically you get sick.”

There are about 1000 homeless people on the Sunshine Coast each day and an MNC survey showed on average 62 people were sleeping rough each night within a five-kilometre radius of the centre.

Males comprise 76 per cent of the local homeless population and females 24 per cent, but for homeless men there is no crisis accommodation available on the Sunshine Coast.

The closest accommodation for men is in Brisbane, Maryborough or Toowoomba but due to high demand they are usually booked out.

This bus is the first of two Sleepbuses ordered for Maroochydore made possible thanks to community and philanthropist support, raising $100,000 to fit out of a second-hand bus donated by local company CDC.

The centre has also raised $100,000 for the second bus, a Pink Sleepbus for women and their children, which is due for delivery in April.

“It’s a credit to everybody, I think,” Mr Ellis says. “The Sunshine Coast is not a big area, but we are achieving some good things, and this is just one of them.

“Out of our fundraising campaign that we did up here on the Sunshine Coast, the news actually travelled down the east coast, basically all the way to Adelaide.

“Basically, out of our campaign, there’s two buses have been ordered for Byron Bay, one for Taree, one for Hervey Bay, Adelaide is looking at purchasing one, and Sydney as well.

“So even that was exciting, that our little space up here has influenced other areas of Australia who are looking for a solution for homelessness as well.”

The buses will join the MNC’s long list of services for the homeless, such as hot meals, laundry facilities, medical help, financial counselling, employment support, drug and alcohol counselling, free haircuts and showers, and lockers to store personal belongings.

The bus itself will be managed by Sleepbus.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sleepbus reports on any given night in Australia, 116,000 people are homeless. Of those, 8200 are rough sleepers, including sleeping out on the street, around 1120 are children under 12, and there is a significant increase in women experiencing family breakdowns and people aged over 60 who are living rough.

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