Founder of Buses4Homeless, Dan Atkins, has a new approach to getting people off the streets and it's all on the buses...

This is a feature from Issue 7 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.

What does Buses4Homeless do?

We provide a holistic solution to homelessness. A lot of organisations provide temporary solutions – they might give people meals or provide shelter at night. But if you’re in the cycle of homelessness this doesn’t help you get any life traction. With us, people get a pod for at least three months. Our four buses are spaces for eating, sleeping, learning and wellbeing and we rehabilitate homeless people, getting them back on their feet into employment and independent living.

Where did the idea for it come from?

I’ve been building buses and coaches for years and one day I walked into the yard and there was a guy who used to be my part-time mechanic, a friend of mine, sleeping rough in the luggage locker under a coach. It broke my heart so that day we went out and bought him a bus and kitted it out so he could live in it with his three dogs, which he did for two and a half years. I also have a background in teaching and I’ve had personal trauma in my own life. I think all my life experience has led to this project.

How did it go from one bus for a friend to Buses4Homeless?

In the past I’d done a lot of favours for people in the events world and that paid off when I got a call from someone at the Hotel Booking Agents Association. She had seen what we’d done on social media and wanted to help by making us their official charity for 2019. That’s when it started to snowball. I went to speak in front of 300 of their members with the intention of raising £5,000 to kickstart the project but we ended up raising over £30,000 and Stagecoach donated four buses to us.
We became a social enterprise because getting the charitable commission to understand that things like reiki energy healing and life coaching can alleviate poverty by creating a positive mind set was difficult. Social enterprises are the way forward, coming at problems with a business mindset will make the world a better place faster.

What happens when you take in a homeless person?

We really work on their mental health and wellbeing, which is by far the most important part of their journey off the streets. Buses4Homeless work with various  trainers and healers to strip back the layers of how and why each person has become homeless. 
Once we’ve addressed their inner demons we equip them with positive coping tools and when they are ready we start up-skilling them. Finally, we find various caring employers to offer them part- or full-time jobs to get them get back on their feet.
We try to create as many employment opportunities as possible so people have a choice in how they move forward, whether that’s carpentry, hospitality or construction.

Why do people become homeless?

Often, people who come to us have fallen out with their family or experienced a breakdown in a relationship. Their life can quickly starts to unravel if they don’t have a caring support network. Many people unfortunately reach for drink, drugs or both and that can lead to loss of employment, which can lead to loss of housing and it’s a slippery slope from there.
When Bibi came to us one cold morning in February, dragging his suitcase with one wheel, he hadn’t changed his socks for five days or had a shower for two weeks. The poor guy just needed some support. Fast-forward 18 months and he has a qualification in carpentry, works full-time for us converting buses and has moved into his own bus that he renovated himself.

What's been the hardest thing to deal with?

One of our boys ended up with terminal cancer and unfortunately he passed away in May this year. He was from Sardinia and was the kindest,  sweetest most gentle soul. But the amazing thing was that, with the help of all our supporters, we managed to get him home to be with his family, which was his final wish.

Whats your proudest moment?

When the employers came to meet our boys for the first time it changed everyone’s lives. I’d promised our guys that if they stuck the programme out they would be introduced to the right people and they all dressed up in their best clothes. The employers met and talked with them and they left completely blown away by these amazing people, who were just down on their luck and needed a helping hand. The boys were so happy and the vibe on camp was electric. All of them were offered jobs shortly after.

What do homeless people need most?

Care and compassion – at the end of the day it all comes down to love. They’ve been through dome trying time, some have been promised a lot and they might not necessarily trust the system, but when they get past that and realise that we just want to help them out, just because, they start believing in themselves. You see the sparkle come back into their eyes and they start taking positive steps towards what they want from life.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

We had to pause operations but we are due to restart just before Christmas. Because of the virus the government no longer wants people sharing a communal sleeping space so we are having to go back to the drawing board and work on creating modular, self-contained sleeping cabins for the people we support.

What's next?

I want to change the way provision of homeless services is done in this country and beyond. Putting people into a home is just isolating them with their problems and they’ll end up back on the street. We need to drill down into why people are homeless in order to eradicate it.

Get onboard

Find out more about Buses4Homeless and their low-cost, holistic solution to re-engaging homeless people and getting them back into the community.
buses4homless.org

This is a feature from Issue 7 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.