THE concept of a bus offering temporary crisis accommodation to Bathurst's homeless population will be explored further as stakeholders attempt to address the growing problem.
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The agreement was reached during the first stakeholder meeting, facilitated by Bathurst Regional Council.
It's very difficult to quantify Bathurst's homelessness crisis, but the stakeholders all agree that the problem is only getting worse as economic and cost of living pressures force more people out of their homes.
During the November 10, 2023 meeting, they heard a presentation by Caitlin Flint from the Queenbeyan council, the officer who organised the establishment of the sleepbus in their community.
The sleepbus was founded by Simon Rowe - who himself spent four months living rough when he was 19 years old - and aims to give homeless people a safe, temporary place to sleep.
A bus, fitted out with bunks and storage, is parked in a safe area for people to sleep in overnight.
"[Ms Flint] spoke about how the service has worked down there, told us where it works really well, elements of where it's got weakness, which has given us a really good sense of what to be aware of to tailor something to Bathurst's intrinsic needs," mayor Jess Jennings said.
The Bathurst stakeholder group will survey the local homeless population to gauge the level of interest in the concept.
If the response is positive, the idea will be progressed further.
Cr Jennings said Newman's Bus Service is considering donating two buses to the cause.
"The local community, with Tony Newman, are looking to do the fit out of the buses," he said.
Bathurst council would not fund the sleepbus, but would provide guidance on strategic locations to park the bus and is happy to offer letters of support to organisations seeking grant funding for the service.
It was agreed that the sleepbus would need to be a community-run organisation with a board and possibly a coordinator.
The sleepbus would not only provide crisis accommodation, but also connect its users to services that could help get them back on their feet.
"The real value that this offers is that, although it is only potentially offering temporary relief, for those people who actually use it, what it will also have to do is provide wrap-around services of a variety of kinds," Cr Jennings said.
These services would offer support for people around domestic violence, finding longer-term accommodation, securing employment, and addressing health needs, including seeking treatment for addiction.
Bathurst is fortunate to have a lot of service providers in these areas, and the sleepbus would help to connect vulnerable people to them.
"It could actually change someone's life quite significantly if they haven't had that connection before and they wind up in this bus," Cr Jennings said.
Cr Marg Hogan, who was also in attendance at the stakeholder meeting, said the sleepbus was seen as one of many services that is needed in the community to address homelessness.
"The two takeaways for me were that there was definitely an appetite in the room for pursuing the idea of a sleepbus, but I think people were grateful to finally have a forum to talk about [homelessness] and they want that to continue as well," she said.
The stakeholders will meet again on November 24, 2023.
It is hoped that, if the homeless community supports the introduction of a sleepbus, that one could be operating in Bathurst by mid 2024.
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