Homeless Find Refuge in a Retrofitted Bus

Humanity First Shelter Bus for homeless in Toronto CROP. Shelter Bus/YouTube

There's an innovative way for homeless people to find warmth in Toronto this winter. A repurposed coach bus is on the streets, offering shelter, food and a bed on cold nights for those who need it.

The Shelter Bus is a project by Humanity First, an international humanitarian relief organization based in Ontario. The retrofitted bus has been turned into an emergency mobile shelter. It seats 44 and, when converted into beds, sleeps 20.

"As part of my work, I always retire buses and they're sold for scrap metal basically for around $2,000 and we buy them for half a million dollars brand new," Shelter Bus Founder Naeem Farooqi tells CBC Toronto in the video above. "So I thought, is there a better social use for these buses?"

Farooqi floated the idea of using a bus to help with the problem of homelessness in Toronto.

There are 35,000 Canadians who are homeless on any given night, according to Humanity First. About two homeless people die each week in Toronto.

A way to show compassion

Throughout most of the year, the bus will go out just on weekends. But now, with temperatures regularly staying frigid, the bus has been going out every night. It will continue to do so as the weather remains dangerous to the homeless. In fact, a second bus is in the works.

There aren't enough shelters in the area to meet the need in winter, so the bus helps with excess demand.

Because it's mobile, the bus is able to go wherever the need is greatest. Local residents also like that the bus only comes out at night and therefore doesn't have a permanent spot in the community, Farooqi says.

The bus operates with a volunteer driver and volunteer caretakers who offer snacks and key necessities like warm socks and toiletries.

In addition to providing a place for people to get out of the cold, the bus has a bathroom, tables and a kitchenette.

"While I consider myself a transit geek and could go on and on about the logistics of this project, I'd like to come back to the core of what we are trying to do: showing compassion to the oft-ignored members of our community," Farooqi writes on LinkedIn.

"Our team has considered it of the utmost importance to stay connected with people who are struggling from homelessness, and understanding their needs. Though our bus is not a long-term solution, we have been trying our best to raise awareness about the issues that the homeless face."