Revamped London buses to provide homeless with dental care, haircuts and GP appointments

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 for 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 will lead a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the Driving For Change project, and tour the buses on Thursday morning ahead of World Homeless Day on Sunday.

It is funded by proceeds from Change Please’s coffee business, which trains homeless people up 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, which will provide mental health and counselling support.

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

Chief executive Cemal Ezel told the PA news agency 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 a shop window, 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.

Mr Ezel added: “Someone might be sitting there with a tumour, or growth somewhere, or a black toe, or persistent cough, or a pain in their arm or something like that, and their level of confidence, self-esteem, self-belief, self-worth is so low that actually they just put it to one side.”

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

Maxine Pritchard, head of financial inclusion and vulnerability at HSBC UK, said: “Without a bank account it’s extremely difficult to claim benefits, rent accommodation or receive wages, which means people who are homeless can become trapped in their current situation.

“Our No Fixed Address service aims to break this cycle by working with charities to provide access to a basic bank account without the need for ID or proof of address.

“We’re pleased to bring this service to more people in need via the Change Please Project.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Change Please / PA.