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Canberra Today 5°/8° | Saturday, September 18, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Brakes go on for Canberra’s big, pink Sleepbus

Sleepbus founder and CEO Simon Rowe, left, son Harrison and Tilly with the Canberra pink Sleepbus… “All I can do is be ready,” says Simon.

DELIVERY of Canberra’s pink Sleepbus, which will provide a safe night’s sleep to women and children in need, has been delayed by COVID-19, but founder and CEO Simon Rowe is pushing ahead and working on the bus himself at his Melbourne worksite.

As well, he has a blue Sleepbus for Queanbeyan, a pink Sleepbus for Melbourne that has just been completed, and a fourth planned for Maroochydore, Queensland. With many more to come, he hopes.

Simon works with bus companies to get buses to convert; some are bought and some are donated. 

He designs and builds each Sleepbus in-house at his “SleepbusHUB”, helped by his twin sons Harrison and Ethan, 20.

“We all live together and it’s pretty isolated here, so we’ve been able to get quite a lot done in lockdown. It’s slow, but great that we’re able to make progress at all.”

They’re reworking the original Melbourne Sleepbus into the Canberra pink Sleepbus, altering the configuration to feature 20 individual sleep pods accessed from outside. Each pod has a bunk bed, toilet, console with reading light, USB charger, intercom and headphone jack for free-to-air TV, plus space for a pet. 

Sleepbus was trialled in Melbourne from late 2016-2019, with overwhelmingly good feedback, says Simon.

“We were at capacity every night, and we’d do a simple ‘happiness scale’ test, asking guests on a scale of 1-10 how they felt going in at night and coming out in the morning,” he says. 

“We were getting scores of 3.2 going in and 8.3 coming out.” 

Simon found himself homeless for four months in 1993, when he was evicted after using his rent money to fix the car he needed for work.

“It can happen so easily, one major bill and that was it,” he says.

Then in May 2015, he got chatting to a man trying to sleep on a busy St Kilda street, who told Simon it was safer to sleep during the day than at night.

“I decided I needed to do something about it, to give people sleeping rough a safe place to sleep until they get back on their feet, but do it quickly and cheaply,” he says.

Simon founded the Sleepbus charity under a 100 per cent model, with all funds raised going directly to the project. Fundraising for the Canberra bus has been conducted by the National Council of Women ACT.

He says he’s still looking for a sponsor to cover the operating costs for the Canberra service, but is thrilled to have found a resource for resetting the buses each day in Canberra, removing the need for volunteers to clean, make beds and do laundry each day. 

Queanbeyan Council has allocated a parking location for Sleepbus at the tourist information centre, with Canberra locations yet to be announced. The buses will be available 365 days a year, and operated by volunteer caretakers, with a third-party security monitor.

“I don’t know when we’ll officially launch, but by the end of the year might be nice,” he says.

“All I can do is be ready, and keep working on what I can with what I’ve got.”

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Ian Meikle, editor

Kathryn Vukovljak

Kathryn Vukovljak

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