As the largest provider of services for the homeless in Australia, The Salvation Army is always interested in new ideas that will help. One such idea is the Shower Bus, which One Voice founder Josh Wilkins has established in Melbourne and Sydney, and has partnered with the Salvos to provide one in Werribee.
Josh Wilkins tells Julie Houghton about his work.
What is One Voice?
One Voice is a group of everyday Australians who have united to make an impact in the lives of homeless Australians, with a focus on restoring dignity through our mobile shower services.
How did the idea of having a shower bus start?
Through personal experience. I chose to spend six months on the streets after meeting a group of young people who were aged 12–14. At this stage I didn’t know there were so many young people who were homeless. From this, I identified that while there was a lack of safe accommodation facilities and housing in general, there was also a lack of places for homeless people to have a hot shower.
How did you go about establishing it?
I engaged with engineers after my own journey on the street. This led to a trial in Melbourne with a trailer, which is now located at The Salvation Army in Werribee, in Melbourne’s south-west, and then we built the Melbourne Bus and have just launched a bus in Sydney.
How did you finance the Shower Bus?
Through the sale of ‘One Voice Spring Water’ with a partnership with Aldi Australia, plus philanthropic donations, various sponsorships and partnerships with a variety of organisations.
What has been the reaction from users of the Shower Bus?
They love it! I have been volunteering for more than a decade and this is the only service where I have experienced the walls between people coming down, either instantly or within a week. Restoring dignity in people’s lives had a huge impact on me, and people love the service.
Has there been much negative reaction?
Some people seem to think it’s a service that will entrench homelessness. People are now starting to realise that it’s not so much about the showers but the conversations and relationships that are built with people using the Shower Bus.
We keep on providing our service, and now the results are starting to be visible. Our bus driver was homeless and we have helped him on his journey and we are hearing many other positive reports.
What reaction have you had from the general community about the idea?
The public think it’s innovative and such a great idea. They say it’s something we take for granted on a daily basis, and that they had never thought about it as an idea to help people experiencing homelessness—we are finding it’s well received by all.
What is so important to you about providing the Shower Bus?
The dignity that is restored in people’s lives and the chance to sit and converse with no judgment. This allows us to connect people with services and build trust.
What kind of expansion plans do you have?
We want to have a Shower Bus in each capital city. So far we have partnered with The Salvation Army with the trailer in Werribee. We have a bus in Melbourne, a bus in Sydney and soon there will be one on the Gold Coast, and from here we have developed a unique housing model based on five years of research. We are looking for a property now and will start a housing community by the end of the year to provide support, education and training.
What drives you to do this kind of service?
I am very passionate about helping young people achieve their dreams. I am a Christian and believe that we should show people Jesus and not so much push Jesus onto people. Most people on the streets know about God and Jesus and it’s time we showed them his love.
For times and locations of the Shower Bus, visit www.onevoice.org.au.