Revamped London buses to provide homeless with haircuts and GP appointments

·4-min read

Revamped London buses will provide a “one-stop” service offering homeless people haircuts, doctors’ appointments, showers and financial advice to help them off the streets.

Two buses have been repurposed with the aim of providing direct support to more than 3,000 people a year sleeping rough in the capital.

The project, by the not-for-profit company Change Please, will provide access to virtual GP consultations, haircuts, on-site dental care, showers, assessment for therapy and help with opening a bank account and finding employment.

It aims to address the barriers that stop people from leaving the streets and help them on their way to a stable job.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan cut a ribbon to launch the Driving For Change project and toured the buses on Thursday morning ahead of World Homeless Day on Sunday.

He said that “as a son of a bus driver I’m so proud to see our buses used in this way”.

He told the PA news agency: “I’m incredibly proud that double-decker buses that my dad used to drive are being used for this really good cause.

“A good example of, you know, our buses being essential lifelines to Londoners.

“And actually, many people across our city trust our buses, many rough sleepers will be really happy to come into these buses because they know buses provide an essential service.”

Mr Khan said he is worried that society is facing a “perfect storm” as the Universal Credit uplift is removed,  alongside the end of the furlough scheme and rising prices and taxes.

He said: “I worry that more and more Londoners will be driven to poverty, and that’s why it’s so important for great charities and social enterprises (to be) helping, but actually it’s the job of the Government to step in and provide that safety net.

“And I really worry – we’ve had a lot of bluster and jokes from the Prime Minister this week at Tory conference, but no real answers to some of the challenges many people across our country face.”

The project is funded by proceeds from Change Please’s coffee business, which trains homeless people as baristas and provides support to help them on to further employment.

NHS England is also providing some funding for GP appointments one day a week as part of a pilot.

It is hoped that the buses will be able to start offering coronavirus vaccinations from early 2022.

The buses will run six days a week over the next two years, with each bus supporting a minimum of six people a day and costing £22,000 a month to run.

Rough sleepers will be able to send a text to request a bus comes to them so they can access healthcare.

Change Please is planning to launch a third bus in the coming months that will provide mental health and counselling support.

There are also discussions taking place to roll out the buses to Manchester, Paris and the United States.

The organisation’s chief executive, Cemal Ezel, told  PA the project is a “world-first” that aims to “build trust, break down barriers and then lift people out of homelessness”.

The 37-year old, from Peckham, south-east London, a former City finance worker, said: “The long-term goal is really to try and break down those barriers for somebody to then exit homelessness longer term.

“From the people that we interact with on a daily basis, a lot of people say to us that they’ve become too embarrassed about looking at their reflection in a shop window when they walk past, which is hundreds of times a day if they’re rough sleeping.

“And by providing somebody with a haircut, a shower, a change of clothes, and then they leave with a Polaroid picture of themselves, hopefully they start to remember the person that they used to be and the image of the person that they used to be, which is for us that building block back into them rebuilding their confidence and their self-belief, again to try to have that end goal of them reintegrating back into society and leaving long-term homelessness.”

By bringing the bus to rough sleepers who send texts asking for help, they hope to tackle health problems before they worsen.

Project sponsors include Colgate, HSBC UK and Mastercard UK & Ireland.

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