by MICHELE STERNBERG

It’s 8.15pm on a Saturday night, mid-autumn and there’s a distinct chill in the air. Rain sprinkles down, leaving a sheen on the bitumen as we stand in the car park next to the BP service station where the Sunshine Motorway meets Brisbane Rd at Mooloolaba.

A man wearing pluggers and a T-shirt casually wanders over. He’s under-dressed for the weather, and I shiver on his behalf.

He also has nowhere to sleep for the night. That’s why he’s come to the sleepbus.

Victorian-based founder of the sleepbus charity Simon Rowe is here, too, to support the volunteers as they settle into the new Mooloolaba location.

Community support, through the Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre’s fundraising efforts, led to the Sunshine Coast being one of the first locations in Australia to get a sleepbus.

“This bus was donated by CDC in Kunda Park so I drove it all the way back to Melbourne, built it and drove it all the way back again, so it’s come back home so that’s great,” Simon says.

“We also have a pink one that will be here mid-winter and that’s a converted low floor, like the city buses you see around. There’s no luggage space under the floor so that hurt my brain a bit to figure out how to redesign it for a sleepbus.”

Simon says the number of women and their children ending up on the streets due to financial troubles, family breakdown and other factors is on the rise.

“The pink sleepbus was a no-brainer,” he says. “Although our traditional service can cater for both male and female guests of all ages, there is a need for women to be in a female-only environment for their own peace of mind and mental health.”

It’s a relatively simple concept that works for so many reasons.

Firstly, a sleepbus is more economical than bricks and mortar – they are flexible and affordable.

“Our aim is to get people off the street and keep them safe and healthy until they can get back on their feet,” Simon says. “All we ask for is a name, that’s it. There’s no other judgements, no other questions, we’re not counsellors, we don’t ask your story, we’re not even here for a chat. Just get on, have a sleep and then in the morning, get off and it’s ‘seeya later’.

“We’re not here to help you with anything else. It’s not designed as a one-stop shop. There’s no food or counselling here – there are other charities that provide those.

“Our accommodation is not a long-term solution. What we do is provide is a safe, temporary and comfortable place to sleep for the night.”

Most people rock up with a backpack – or nothing. Thankfully the rest is provided.

Each sleepbus has up to 20 individual, secure sleep pods fully decked out with a memory foam mattress, sheets, blanket, pillow, toilet, TV, USB charger and a reading light.

There’s even a larger cabin for those who are a bit claustrophobic or have a pet with them.

“Everyone says they wish they could do something about homelessness, just ‘not in my street’,” Simon says. “The beauty of having a bus is it comes in at 8 o’clock at night and leaves at 8 o’clock in the morning.

“By the time you’ve left work and get home, we come in and do our thing. By the time you get up to go back to work, we’ve gone and you’d never even know we were there.

“And the beauty of not being bricks and mortar, if we don’t need the sleepbus in a particular area any more, we can just move it on.”

Simon says anyone is welcome to a bed. But there is one rule.

“It’s the quiet enjoyment rule: please remain quiet and considerate of other guests at all times, so everyone can enjoy a good night’s sleep,” he says. 

The Maroochydore sleepbus operates every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

The charity has a major fundraising raffle under way, with a Dreamliner motorhome as the major prize.

The stylish all-black Dreamliner sleeps and seats up to five people, has two lounge areas, a custom fireplace, full-size kitchen, dining area, separate toilet and shower/bathroom, twin bunk beds with full-length windows, a queen-size bed above the rear lounge with views from every angle, and comes all fully insulated and wrapped in marine ply and solid timber.

If you would like to donate or buy a raffle ticket to win your own dream house on wheels visit sleepbus.org.

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