Housing crisis

Sleep bus will be sanctuary for Sunshine Coast homeless amid housing crisis

Queensland’s first sleep bus has arrived to provide emergency beds for homeless people on the Sunshine Coast, as support agencies struggle to help an avalanche of people caught in the housing crisis.

The $100,000 bus was funded by community donations as part of a campaign that began when homeless man David Collin was killed in his sleeping bag in Maroochydore in 2019.

Mark Ellis, community development coordinator at Maroochy Neighborhood Centre, felt compelled to provide safe beds in an area that has no shelter for homeless men.

He said that while the bus was not a long-term or even medium-term housing solution, it would give people in crisis some respite.

“Because they’re so, so sleep deprived, you know, a few good nights sleep in a bed, their mental health will improve, which will improve their physical health,” Ellis said.

‘I am not a tramp’

Peter McNeill hopes to be one of the first to sleep on the bus when it opens on January 21.

Peter McNeill, who is homeless, says he can’t wait to board the bus for a good night’s sleep.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jacqui St.)

Mr McNeill said he had been homeless for nearly five years after quitting his job at Bunnings due to health issues.

He said Ross River fever from a mosquito bite turned into chronic fatigue, leaving him unable to work for more than an hour or two without needing to lie down.

“There are people out there who think, ‘Oh, you’re just a bum, but I’m not a bum. You know, I’m not… a healthy person,” he said.

Mr McNeill was on the waiting list for public housing and had been offered housing assistance, but was unable to find an affordable rental in the current market.

He described the bus as “absolutely brilliant” and “a blessing from God”.

How it works

The Maroochydore bus has eight double cabins that can accommodate eight single people or more if there are couples or parents.

Two pods inside the sleep bus, the end of the bunk beds visible and the camp toilets below
Sleep pods are equipped with iPads and walkie-talkies so guests can communicate with the onboard caretaker.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jacqui St.)

It will be parked in Maroochydore in a place approved by the town hall, and the doors will open between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. for “boarding”, with a wake-up call from 7 a.m.

Sleeping buses generally fill their seats on a first-come, first-served basis.

Melbourne founder and chief executive of Sleepbus Simon Rowe said dogs would also be allowed.

“We have a rule, which is the rule of quiet enjoyment.

Mr Rowe converted the bus himself after it was donated by transport company CDC.

Sleep pods have air conditioning, reading lights, USB charging points, small toilets, and even an iPad so sleepers can catch up on TV programs.

Man in black shirt standing in front of sleep capsules
Simon Rowe fitted the bus with pods and drove it from Melbourne to Maroochydore.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jacqui St.)

Volunteers will be required to clean bedding, but Mr Rowe said 50 people had signed up to help.

The bus will also have a volunteer caretaker who will sleep on board in another basket.

“So they stay at the front of the bus in their own cabin, it’s a pretty big cabin, they have security cameras to see what’s going on,” Mr Rowe said.

He said all the guests would also have a small walkie-talkie.

“So if they want to communicate, they can.”

great need

The blue bus will be open to anyone in need of a bed, but a pink women’s bus has also been ordered and will arrive mid-year.

Smiling man sitting inside bus door
Mark Ellis says he’s proud of the sleep bus but wants governments to do more for the homeless.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jacqui St.)

Mr Ellis said the need for emergency housing continued to grow in the area, with many unable to afford rent increases.

“To the department’s credit, the next day she was actually housed because a 73-year-old woman sleeping rough on the street is not on.”

Mr Ellis said government investment in housing was needed.

“I think the feds really need to start looking at it seriously and putting some serious money into it or else…we have a serious problem as it is, but it’s going to get even worse.”

Sleep buses are gaining momentum

The Queensland bus follows others to Melbourne, Canberra and neighboring Queanbeyan in New South Wales.

Mr Ellis said Maroochydore’s fundraising efforts had inspired other communities and sleeper buses had been ordered for Hervey Bay, Byron Bay and Taree.

“I really feel like a proud dad. Seeing the bus here and having some of the homeless people come to see the bus is a good thing.”