sleepbus: Mobile Homeless Shelters
In 1993, I fell behind in my rent and was evicted. I had a job, but for the next 4 months I lived in my car while I saved up enough money for a months bond and a months rent on another place. I would park in a car park near my old place for the night, and in the mornings, drive to a caravan park near by, sneak in, have a shower and go to work.
Since then, I have made a good living for years as a Chef, and Entrepreneur, for the most part living selfishly and not giving a second thought to those sleeping rough.
In May 2015, I was walking along Carlisle street in St. Kilda East, Melbourne, to my local Coles supermarket. As I approached the brand new Bank of Melbourne I see a bright, white doona crumpled up in the tiny alcove of an unused doorway. As I got closer I noticed there was a man curled up in the doona, on the hard concrete floor, trying to get some sleep… at lunch time.
So many people were walking past, looking, but moving on with their day, as I have probably done since 1993. This time I couldn’t walk past, I stopped and asked him if he was ok… he said “yeah mate, thanks, just trying to get some sleep”. He looked so tired. I said, “here mate” and gave him the $20 I had in my pocket. His eyes lit up, he smiled and was so grateful. He shook my hand, thanked me again with a smile and curled back up under the doona. When I got home, I told my family what had happened and tears rolled down my face.
That man, trying to sleep on a concrete floor, in the middle of the day, on a busy city street affected me in a profound way. And that’s a mild story; for many sleeping on the streets are being subjected to terrible weather, harassment, bullying, being robbed and worse. No one should have to live like that.
Charity. For me, charity is practical. It's the ability to use one's position of influence, relative wealth and power to affect lives for the better.
I’m not a religious person, but there's a story in the bible about a man beaten near death by robbers. He's stripped naked and lying on the roadside. Most people pass him by, but one man stops. He picks him up and bandages his wounds. He puts him on his horse and walks alongside until they reach an inn. He checks him in and throws down his Amex. "Whatever he needs until he gets better.”
Because he could.
The dictionary defines charity as simply the act of giving voluntarily to those in need.
Using my 20+ years of business experience, I set about developing a simple solution with a mission; to provide people sleeping “rough”, a safe overnight place to sleep. The more I developed and researched a solution, the more I discovered what a good nights sleep can do for a persons physical and mental health. Just being able to sleep through the night, warm and safe can give a person a whole new outlook on life.
Sleep Bus is distinct, yet complementary, to existing efforts from other organisations supporting Australians experiencing or at risk of ending up on the streets. Our work aims to fill a ‘gap’, rather than overlapping or replicating activities that support the urgent needs of people in Australia.
The least we can do is provide safe overnight accommodation to people sleeping rough in Australia, until they get back on their feet.
Dear sleepbus Family.
We need to talk. It’s been 10 months since the idea of sleepbus was born and on the surface it looks like not much has happened, but the reality of setting up a Charity properly and for the long term takes time and more red-tape than I care to mention. That’s said, they are important steps and given our 100% model where all public donations go to sleepbus projects, it was important to make sure we did everything right from the start.
So what’s been happening. Well let me take you through the list.
Bus Design: Completed and is ready to go. The bus design includes 22 individual sleep pods, 2 toilets, 22 personal items lockers, under bus storage, 8 pet kennels, security system, lighting system inside & out and intercom system for family sleep pods with parental control locks. The toilet’s have been strategically located at the front of the bus to assist with the safety of guests within the bus.
Sleep Pods: Each sleep pods comes with single bed inner spring mattress, pillows, sheets and blankets (washed daily). The pod has USB charging for mobile phones, personal light, lockable roller door, climate control and Television with auxiliary channel running adverts for available services in the area to help with pathways out of homelessness. Each pod can be adapted for families, with parents able to control their child’s door lock and intercom for communication between designated family members only. Various sizes have been tested. I’ve slept in a pod every night for 3 weeks or so and found it very comfortable and cosy, which is important. Even the kids had a go.
sleepbus Brand: A complete brand has been developed including, various logos, our vision, mission and essence, all developed and documented.
Our Vison: To end the need for people sleeping rough in Australia.
Our Mission: To provide safe overnight accommodation for people sleeping rough in Australia.
Our Mantra: sleep changes everything.
We have two major fundraising and awareness events designed and planned to run each year and these are aimed at two very different target audiences. Sleep Bus Ltd has been registered (ABN 15 609 317 937),
charity constitution completed and register, Charity status lodged and awaiting our Deductable Gift Recipient status which takes several months. Two separate bank accounts have been setup to manage our 100% Model; one account is for public donations; this money will all go to sleepbus projects; the second account is for corporate donations to assist with the costs of running sleepbus. Money can be transferred from the corporate account to the public donations account to assist with projects, but can never be transferred from the public account to the corporate account. This is even written into our constitution.
Website: Thanks to a very generous donation from Zeemo.com.au , we have a basic website up and running while the Zeemo team build our larger and more robust site for the future. Zeemo has also completed all the final logo designs and other branding, all of this is very time consuming and expensive work, but they were the first corporate to join the sleepbus family and do everything for free. Amazing.
Volunteers: sleepbus has been inundated with offers of support; Zeemo as mentioned, all the legal work has been donated, a company has offered to clean all our buses for free once we’re up and going and Belinda Jane Video.com has offered their assistance to video the story of sleepbus from idea to birth and more. This will help you, our family, see everything that goes into building sleepbus, getting people off the street and provide safe sleeps. We have had many many other offers of help from individuals via our Facebook page . I can’t express how amazing it feels to not only have people love and support an idea, but to also know, we’re not on our own, there is plenty of help at our disposal.
So where are we now and what’s next.
We have all the legal & Charity paperwork/red-tape done.
The bank accounts and tracking system is done.
Website stage one is up and the big bad boy of a site is underway and will be ready for launch this Winter.
We have media interest.
We have plans, designs, costings and material list done.
We have operational guidelines, checklists and manuals done.
We have our eye on several buses.
So all that is ready, and now sleepbus is ready to ask for donations to build the first of many buses and get people off the street. We want at least one bus on the road by this coming Winter. That one bus will provide 8,030 safe sleeps per year and can last up to 10 years before it needs major work or replacement. One bus costs approximately $50,000 to buy and build.
We have had significant interest from corporate organisations, but until now, two things have held us back, one; we weren’t prepared to do any deals or accept any money from anyone, until we were registered and everything was in order / two; corporates need to see proof of concept. What does that mean? They want to see the first bus up and running before they commit.
And fair enough. Talk is cheap. And I am expecting significant investment from our future corporate partners. After all, we have a goal for 300+ buses to build and operate across the country, we’ll need there help in a big way to reach our goals and provide enough safe sleeps across Australia.
But for now, its up to us, the sleepbus family. I really need your help. Winter is fast approaching, and we must have a bus built and ready to go by then. We need to stop doing paperwork now and begin the important work of getting people off the street and provide safe sleeps. One bus will provide 8,030 safe sleeps per year…just one bus.
What can you do to help;
Share the sleepbus story & concept with everyone and anyone you know.
Introduce us to corporates that are interested in what we’re doing.
Start a campaign, at work or at home and raise funds for the first bus.
Donate; money & or goods to build the first bus
Donate your professional skills to the sleepbus cause; we need an accounting firm to complete our books and auditing requirements; we need ongoing legal support; we need material suppliers; we need a bus supplier; we need trades; electrical, plumbing, carpentry, welding/metal work, auto electrical, mechanic, sign writer, auto spray painting.
Introductions within local council addressing homelessness right now.
Above all else, we need to get a bus. So sleepbus Family, if you were ever going to get involved now is the time. We have set ourselves a launch date. We have media wanting to run our story. Its time.
If you believe in what we’re doing; if you want to do something about people sleeping on the street this winter; if you want to be a part of sleepbus history as a founding donor of the very first bus that starts it all.
Raise Money Now.
Speak to people Now.
Every bit will help. Every cent will go to buying, building & operating the first bus. 100% Model. You will be able to find your name on the first bus, plus your name and generous donation will be forever immortalised in sleepbus history and we look forward to meeting you all at our sleepbus launch.
Come on sleepbus family, lets make this happen.
Hi sleepbus Family, for anyone who has made a donation in the past 12 months (thank you), you would have received a donation receipt today. We have just setup our new automated system and it is catching up on all outstanding receipts. That's the good news.
Unfortunately, the system left off the donation dates, so I am sorry, but we will need to reissue again with dates included.
Remember, we are a registered Australian Charity, all donations over $2 are tax deductible... hence the receipts.
After this hiccup though, no more manual receipts for me to issue. Woohoo.
Today marks one year since the launch of the sleepbus concept. I often think about how long it has taken to get to this point and then someone always corrects me to say how much I have done in a year. Reflection is important. I've set some massive goals and always feel like time is running out, but on the flip side, a lot is getting done and I feel good.
On the 26th February 2016, I was sitting in a Zoo (yes you read that correctly) with my mobile and decided after a year of research, development and planning, it was time to share my idea. I launched a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.com, not so much to raise money, but to see what people thought about the concept...to say people liked it is an understatement.
Within just 4 days the GoFundMe campaign had reached its $20,000 initial target, enough to purchase the first bus, and it didn't slow down. Within just 2 months more than $100,000 was raised, and it still continues to tick over today. Currently $120,742.
I was blown away by the support. Over 2000 people from all over the world have donated to sleepbus on GoFundMe and many more via our website. This, for a guy that had barely 70 Facebook friends. The idea clearly resonated with people. I was receiving emails, messages, media requests, from all over the world... and I didn't even have a bus yet. Crazy.
After trying to juggle a full time job, 2 kids and now a full time charitable enterprise, I was stretched a little thin; something had to give, quit the job or stop sleepbus. I pretty much live by the motto "The universe will provide", so despite the concerns of family and friends and having a charitable model where 100% of public donations go directly to sleepbus projects (means I couldn't use any of the money for a wage), I made the decision to quit the corporate world, live off my savings and see how we go.
Westernport Roadlines offered to partially donate a suitable bus. This was a $45,000 vehicle that I bought for $20,000. So now I have a bus. The work begins.
I couldn't fit the bus down my drive to the shed, so I had to park it up on the street...when I say street, I live in the bush, so a dirt track in the middle of nowhere. As John Snow would say, "winter is coming", so I needed to get a move on. So it took longer than expected to build the first sleepbus; nothing was straight, floors needed replacing; it rained...in the bus, so all the windows had to come out and sides boarded up; and it snowed.
3 months after quitting my job, the universe provided. I received a call from the owners of Citi-Con, a Construction company based in Footscray. They had read an article in The Age and reached out to ask how they could help. I was so busy, I wasn't sure what I needed, but they just wanted to be involved. They asked me about the 100% model and how was I surviving personally... they said they'd call me back. To be honest, I thought that was it, won't be hearing from them again, but I was very wrong. Two days later, they indeed did call me back and told me they rang a mate, the owner of The Blind Factory, and said that between the two businesses, they would cover my wages so I could get on with what needed to be done. Wow. The unyielding support that I get from the sleepbus Family never ceases to amaze. These guys have NEVER asked me for anything in return. I made up a geeky t-shirt with their logos on it and wear it wherever I go, to in some small way say thank you, but I will never be able to truly express what their support has meant, without them, I would have had to stop sleepbus long ago, just to survive myself.
Juggling the charity side of sleepbus; registering the charity; speaking with government agencies, councils, media, Corporates; and building sleepbus too, made time move fast. For a project I naively thought I could build in a month, it ended up taking 6.
Now 12 months since the campaign launch on GoFundMe, we're ready. The sleepbus Charity is registered and has Deductible Gift Recipient status from the ATO. (All donations over $2 are tax deductible). The website is fully functional and people can donate and/or start their very own campaigns to help raise funds to build more sleepbus and of course, the first sleepbus is ready for service.
Being the first of its kind in the world comes with its problems... someone, a council, needs to go first. Someone needs to be brave enough to try a new initiative to test if it works.
I once wondered why somebody didn't do something about people sleeping on the street, then I realised I am somebody and decided to have a go. That's all you can do really, just have a go. I have done the research, spoken to every stakeholder there is with regards to the issue of people sleeping rough, I've listened, I've adapted and sleepbus is ready to get people off the street and to provide a safe nights sleep until long term solutions are ready.
I recently put out a Facebook post in frustration of what seems like 6 months of endless red tape and the goal posts being continually shifted, but in doing so, several Mayors in and around Melbourne suburbs have reached out and said they are interested. Hopefully over the next 2 weeks an agreement can be reached to begin a trial and to truly determine what sleepbus can do.
Talks are continuing and progressing with the Victorian Government also. They have shown me every bit of respect for the efforts put in to this point and sleepbus is being considered as a part of the overall strategy to combat homelessness and get people into homes.
I must thank all of you, the sleepbus Family, without you, none of this would be possible. I don't say that lightly; whenever I have needed something, you have come through, all I have had to do is ask and that is truly inspiring. You keep me motivated, you keep my spirits high and you have never doubted. I can't tell you how excited I am at the thought of showing you all the first sleepbus that you helped make possible. That day is coming soon, and this story is just getting started, so watch this space.
sleepbus has upto 8 pet pods (more if required)
Intercom from owner to pet and
The purpose of the pet pods is to prevent reasons for people being turned away from a good nights sleep. Many places don't allow pets, and an owner would rather sleep on the street than leave their pet...that's just not acceptable...and as it turns out, not hard to accommodate. Also, the reason for the slightly geeky intercom and video is all about safety; so an owner can see and talk to their pet from within the safety of sleepbus, without the need to go outside. Simon
Fabulous idea - would love to donate, but PLEASE allow sleepers to take their pets (at least dogs). Many street sleepers are denied shelter places as they can't take their dogs with them. It's a knee-jerk reaction to say 'no dogs'. It CAN be done - please allow it, and I will happily become a supporter.
Hi Jo Webb, Sleepbus has pets already taken care of. Each bus comes with 8 kennels underneath for pets to enjoy a safe nights sleep also. Our friends at Pets for The Homless Australia will make sure they are fed and taken care of too. One thing I found while researching the sleepbus concept were the restrictions, we have one; if you can hop on the bus and allow all other guests to enjoy a safe nights sleep with quiet enjoyment. You're in. You can find more information about sleepbus features in our Facebook page or via the Pro Bono Australia article link on this page.
This is such an amazing, inspiring story. Talk about innovation, Malcolm Turnbull: this is it, putting an enormous amount of hard work and ingenuity into a solution for homeless people. I hope this brilliant solution spreads nationwide and becomes a model for other countries as well. I"ve donated; hope you and your friends will consider contributing too. I"ve wanted to help homeless people for a long time, and this is the best solution I've seen.
This is amazing, reading this made me have tears in my eyes. We need these sleep buses all over and in the UK for our English people. My mum was homeless when i was a child and i felt so helpless, not being able to help in anyway at all. I really hope this is successful and everyone continues to donate as i know how important this is to provide that safe place and warmth for the homless people.
Hello Sleepbus family, for those that have been asking for pay pal, unfortunately GoFundMe doesn't allow for pay pal, and not something I can change. Their are only two other options; 1) send an account details request for direct deposit into our Sleepbus Ltd. Public donations account. This account allows us to track your donation as per our 100% model. This is where 100% of public donations go directly to Sleepbus projects. We track your donation, let you know which bus (in this case the first one) your full donation went to, where it is parked each night and you can go see your bus in operation helping get people of the street for the night; you will even find you name engraved on the bus as one of the donors that made it all possible. Option 2) In late May when the first Sleepbus is launched, we will launch our brand new, upgraded website that will allow for pay pal donations and many other ways to get involved. I hope this helps. Thank you for the ongoing support. Simon
If we had bus or buses parked at all the airports so that flight ticket holders that need sleep could also use a sleepbus. Whilst paying a small fee for doing so, it would be great to help& pay for those who can't. I get so tired being woken up and moved on when waiting a few hours for a plane thats not worth going to find a motel miles away for even less hours sleep when travel is delayed. Sleep is a health basic, very hard to find whilst working& travelling as a single Mum trying to save every penny.I've been asking for 'Pods' at airports for ages but this is an even better plan....Well done Simon.Come and do it in New Zealand too please.
I wish there was something like this when I was a street kid, sleeping in tunnels, in clothing bins, under stairs in apartment blocks, even in the doorway of a kindy on their welcome mat, among other places. I'm so glad that our homeless have somebody like you and all those that are involved, a good night sleep to them is something they'll be forever grateful for. Now you just need a food van/coffee van in tow so they can have a sausage sizzle and drink before retiring for the night.
What a brilliant idea!!! Maybe you can link up with those guys who are operating the portable laundry service for the homeless. don't know their name. How are you going to work out the supervision on the bus? Would you turn away those backpackers who want to use it as cheap accomodation? Theirs also that program on tele called Shark Tank who put forward money for good ideas.