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All aboard: band tour bus morphs into mobile homeless shelter All aboard: band tour bus morphs into mobile homeless shelter
(2 months later)
The homeless duo who snuck on to the glitzy double-decker bus parked outside Andy Burnham’s office wondered which band would be hiding behind the blacked-out windows. As they explored, admiring its sleek leather interiors and snazzy entertainment system, testing out the memory foam mattresses on the 14 bunks, they found not a rock star but a smiley young man called Sid Williams.The homeless duo who snuck on to the glitzy double-decker bus parked outside Andy Burnham’s office wondered which band would be hiding behind the blacked-out windows. As they explored, admiring its sleek leather interiors and snazzy entertainment system, testing out the memory foam mattresses on the 14 bunks, they found not a rock star but a smiley young man called Sid Williams.
The bus, Williams told them, had until recently been transporting the entourages of some of the biggest stars around the country: Tinie Tempah, David Guetta, Mumford & Sons, Sam Smith. But he had just bought it for £30,000 and was in the process of turning it into a mobile homeless shelter. He’d just parked it outside the mayor of Greater Manchester’s HQ to give Burnham a sneaky peek ahead of the launch later this year.The bus, Williams told them, had until recently been transporting the entourages of some of the biggest stars around the country: Tinie Tempah, David Guetta, Mumford & Sons, Sam Smith. But he had just bought it for £30,000 and was in the process of turning it into a mobile homeless shelter. He’d just parked it outside the mayor of Greater Manchester’s HQ to give Burnham a sneaky peek ahead of the launch later this year.
“One of the homeless guys said to me, ‘but this is luxury. This is five-star to us. Why would you do this for people like us?’ And I said to them that I think they are valuable and so does God. One of them burst into tears,” said Williams, 33, a Christian community worker whose last mission was running youth clubs on buses in the most deprived neighbourhoods of the UK.“One of the homeless guys said to me, ‘but this is luxury. This is five-star to us. Why would you do this for people like us?’ And I said to them that I think they are valuable and so does God. One of them burst into tears,” said Williams, 33, a Christian community worker whose last mission was running youth clubs on buses in the most deprived neighbourhoods of the UK.
Along with his wife, Tess, Williams has spent much of this year raising funds to get the bus ready for winter. They have called it Embassy because it is a sanctuary where people can seek help. It is a deliberately neutral name with no connotations of homelessness. “Not that that’s a bad thing, but we want the guys to step off the bus with dignity, without it being obvious why they are on board.”Along with his wife, Tess, Williams has spent much of this year raising funds to get the bus ready for winter. They have called it Embassy because it is a sanctuary where people can seek help. It is a deliberately neutral name with no connotations of homelessness. “Not that that’s a bad thing, but we want the guys to step off the bus with dignity, without it being obvious why they are on board.”
The bus interior has changed very little since Williams bought it. There’s a lilac faux-suede ceiling, purple duvets on the 14 bunks and his personal favourite fixture: “The hugely inappropriate champagne fridge. Of course we will be using it as a milk fridge.”The bus interior has changed very little since Williams bought it. There’s a lilac faux-suede ceiling, purple duvets on the 14 bunks and his personal favourite fixture: “The hugely inappropriate champagne fridge. Of course we will be using it as a milk fridge.”
Booze and drugs will be strictly banned on Embassy when it opens this winter, staffed by one paid support worker and two volunteers each night. Residents will be expected to be aboard by 8pm, having had a compulsory shower at the Narrowgate Mission in Salford, the conventional homeless hostel where it will be parked overnight.Booze and drugs will be strictly banned on Embassy when it opens this winter, staffed by one paid support worker and two volunteers each night. Residents will be expected to be aboard by 8pm, having had a compulsory shower at the Narrowgate Mission in Salford, the conventional homeless hostel where it will be parked overnight.
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They will put their bags into the secure luggage store at the back of the bus, formerly used for amps and speakers, and will be allowed to take to their bunk just their phones and a charger, and perhaps a book. “Basically, we need to know what is in their pockets,” explains Williams. He is in the process of deciding what clean clothes to give guests each night: not pyjamas (too intimate), and not a tracksuit (too prison-issue).They will put their bags into the secure luggage store at the back of the bus, formerly used for amps and speakers, and will be allowed to take to their bunk just their phones and a charger, and perhaps a book. “Basically, we need to know what is in their pockets,” explains Williams. He is in the process of deciding what clean clothes to give guests each night: not pyjamas (too intimate), and not a tracksuit (too prison-issue).
To qualify for a berth, guests must be male and over 26. “That’s the group that seems to make up the bulk of homeless people and they are the ones who tend to get stuck in the slow lane when it comes to rehousing,” said Williams. They will all be referred by their key workers who consider them ready for housing and largely in control of any addictions or mental health issues.To qualify for a berth, guests must be male and over 26. “That’s the group that seems to make up the bulk of homeless people and they are the ones who tend to get stuck in the slow lane when it comes to rehousing,” said Williams. They will all be referred by their key workers who consider them ready for housing and largely in control of any addictions or mental health issues.
The idea is for Embassy to be a stopgap of two to three months, while guests are helped to apply for ID documents, to make and keep appointments with GPs or the council, and to fill in forms.The idea is for Embassy to be a stopgap of two to three months, while guests are helped to apply for ID documents, to make and keep appointments with GPs or the council, and to fill in forms.
About 500 people are thought to sleep rough regularly in Greater Manchester. In Manchester alone, the number of rough sleepers has gone up 10-fold since 2010. Williams says he has been told by Salford city council and Barnabus, a charity which will refer to Embassy, that there is a shortage of hostel places across the region, which it hopes to address.About 500 people are thought to sleep rough regularly in Greater Manchester. In Manchester alone, the number of rough sleepers has gone up 10-fold since 2010. Williams says he has been told by Salford city council and Barnabus, a charity which will refer to Embassy, that there is a shortage of hostel places across the region, which it hopes to address.
Not everyone agrees. “There are enough beds for people with low-support needs, which sounds like the sort of people the Embassy wants to take,” said Amanda Croome, the chief executive of the Booth Centre, a long-established charity which has refused to refer clients to Embassy. “Last winter, there was a night shelter run in a rotation of seven churches across Greater Manchester, run by volunteers, and they often had places. The shortage is for the majority of homeless people with complex needs, who can only be housed in hostels with specialist-trained staff.”Not everyone agrees. “There are enough beds for people with low-support needs, which sounds like the sort of people the Embassy wants to take,” said Amanda Croome, the chief executive of the Booth Centre, a long-established charity which has refused to refer clients to Embassy. “Last winter, there was a night shelter run in a rotation of seven churches across Greater Manchester, run by volunteers, and they often had places. The shortage is for the majority of homeless people with complex needs, who can only be housed in hostels with specialist-trained staff.”
Croome said she worried about the dignity of people aboard the bus, as well as their safety and that of the staff, cooped up in such close confines. “We have great concerns and have told the Embassy people about them, in terms of dignity and safety and support to help find permanent accommodation, which is what people need and want.”Croome said she worried about the dignity of people aboard the bus, as well as their safety and that of the staff, cooped up in such close confines. “We have great concerns and have told the Embassy people about them, in terms of dignity and safety and support to help find permanent accommodation, which is what people need and want.”
With the aisle between the bunk beds just 90cm apart, the bus doesn’t meet the agreed minimum standards for emergency accommodation, drawn up last year by the Manchester homelessness partnership, said Croome. “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.”With the aisle between the bunk beds just 90cm apart, the bus doesn’t meet the agreed minimum standards for emergency accommodation, drawn up last year by the Manchester homelessness partnership, said Croome. “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.”
Tim Heatley, whose development company Capital & Centric has provided a good chunk of the £108,000 year-one costs of running Embassy, is much more optimistic. “I had people phoning me up and saying: ‘Don’t give money to this guy’, but I believe in Sid and I think it makes sense. Pound for pound, if we can get people back into housing after being on the bus, it is good value for money. The current solutions aren’t working, so why not try something different?”Tim Heatley, whose development company Capital & Centric has provided a good chunk of the £108,000 year-one costs of running Embassy, is much more optimistic. “I had people phoning me up and saying: ‘Don’t give money to this guy’, but I believe in Sid and I think it makes sense. Pound for pound, if we can get people back into housing after being on the bus, it is good value for money. The current solutions aren’t working, so why not try something different?”
A similar project, the Sleep Bus, has been a huge success in Australia, says Williams. He is currently £40,000 short of his target, with fundraising ongoing, but has been inundated with offers from businesses wanting to help. One firm will be washing the bedding each week for free; another, which has the contract for the gardening in some of Manchester’s biggest parks, has offered jobs for anyone onboard willing to graft.A similar project, the Sleep Bus, has been a huge success in Australia, says Williams. He is currently £40,000 short of his target, with fundraising ongoing, but has been inundated with offers from businesses wanting to help. One firm will be washing the bedding each week for free; another, which has the contract for the gardening in some of Manchester’s biggest parks, has offered jobs for anyone onboard willing to graft.
Burnham is backing the bus too, as part of his manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping in Greater Manchester by 2020. “This year I want us to provide a bed for every rough sleeper in Greater Manchester every night of the winter, and this project run by Embassy could play an important part in making that an achievable goal. It’s a flexible resource, one that can be moved around, and I’m calling on businesses across the city-region to back it and others projects like it that require financial support,” he said.Burnham is backing the bus too, as part of his manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping in Greater Manchester by 2020. “This year I want us to provide a bed for every rough sleeper in Greater Manchester every night of the winter, and this project run by Embassy could play an important part in making that an achievable goal. It’s a flexible resource, one that can be moved around, and I’m calling on businesses across the city-region to back it and others projects like it that require financial support,” he said.
HomelessnessHomelessness
Greater ManchesterGreater Manchester
Andy BurnhamAndy Burnham
ManchesterManchester
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