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Anthony Zorbaugh
May 28, 2022
271 views

Planning a Bus Conversion to Provide Shelter for the Homeless – The Dignity Bus

A Bus Conversion to Shelter the Homeless

The Source for the poor and homeless in Vero Beach Florida, officially announced in March of 2021, the doors to the Dignity Bus were open. Created under the leadership of Executive Director Anthony Zorbaugh, the new Dignity Bus offers a good night’s sleep for 20 needy people living on the streets of Indian River County.

“It’s been a long ride getting here,” states Zor-baugh, “but our hearts and hard work led us to this point, and now we can share this finished product with those that need it the most.”

The Source began in 1995 as a fledgling home-less Christian ministry. Today their purpose remains to offer life-changing possibilities to residents in crisis, offering emergency hunger relief, clothing, counseling, support groups, hygiene items, showers, mail, and telephone services, benefit referrals, cold-weather refuge, and so much more. All services are offered free of charge, thanks to the generosity of friends and family of The Source.

Seats are removed from the bus.
Seats removed from the bus.
Exterior of bus before wrapping.
Exterior of the bus before wrapping.

The Source had one simple focus in creating the Dignity Bus; to provide a safe, temporary overnight accommodation for those sleeping rough in Indian River County. The aim is to get people off the street and keep them safe and healthy until they can get back on their feet. This accommodation is not a long-term solution but can provide a safe, temporary, and comfortable place to sleep for the night.

Zorbaugh explains, “In our effort to extend and expand our programs and services for the homeless, we always question ourselves… How can we continue to help people living on the street? The simple answer is...to help them sleep. Why? Because we all know that sleep can change everything.”

Blueprint of the solution, “Dignity Bus.”
Blueprint of the solution, “Dignity Bus.”

“What became clear to our team at The Source was to create an immediate, first stop, cost-effective solution for our society’s most vulnerable people catching them early until they can get back on their feet,” Zorbaugh continues. “We are proud to add, that as far as we know, this overnight emergency shelter on wheels is the first and only one of its kind for the homeless in the United States.”

FACT: “On a single night in 2019, roughly 568,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. Nearly two-thirds (63%) were staying in sheltered locations—emergency shelters or transitional housing programs—and more than one-third (37%) were in unsheltered locations such as on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in other places not suitable for human habitation.”

Source: 2019 Housing Urban Development report

FACT: Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep can help protect a person’s mental and physical health, and ultimately their safety. For those sleeping outside, getting a good night’s sleep is virtually impossible and can contribute to long-term home-lessness and more, including low self-esteem, social isolation, and the exacerbation or development of specific mental health disorders including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ongoing sleep deficiency can raise the risk for some chronic health problems such as diabetes, heart health, breathing problems, and breast cancer. Many sleeping on the streets are subjected to terrible weather, harassment, bullying, being robbed, and worse. Those sleeping on the street also run a high risk of drug and alcohol abuse, further affecting their safety and well-being.

The Dignity Bus parked at Riverside Park.
The Dignity Bus parked at Riverside Park.
Interior view of the bus during the conversion process.
Interior view of the bus during the conversion process.
Sleeping pods with bedding and the owner of Heat Customs who participated in the bus conversion.
Sleeping pods with bedding and the owner of Heat Customs who participated in the bus conversion.

SOLUTIONS: Dignity Bus is a 1999 Van Hool 45-foot motorcoach. It has been converted into a custom-made interior and exterior, providing 20 secure, climate-controlled, individual sleep pods with a lockable entrance door, under-bus storage, pet pods for companion animals, an onboard overnight security person, and monitored CCTV surveillance.

One Dignity Bus provides 7,300 safe nights of sleep per year. Guests are asked to adhere to a few important guidelines in order to maintain safety, security, and comfort for everyone.

Guidelines include: Attendance is on a first-come-first-served basis; boarding is no later than 10:00 PM.; once signed in and boarded, no one is permitted to leave until morning; cannot arrive intoxicated; drugs, alcohol, or paraphernalia are not permitted and if passengers do not comply, they will be asked to leave. The Bus is open for sign-in at 9:45 PM. on a first-come-first-served basis.

Click HERE to see a video of this bus.

“Since this is the year of COVID, we are using all protocols possible for the safety of our guests,” Zorbaugh adds. “Upon departure from the bus in the morning, clean-up and disinfecting of the sleeping pods prepares it for the use of a new group arriving for that night’s sleep. Additionally, we purchased an air-purification system that is highly effective in this COVID climate. With the assistance of our three air-conditioning units, the filter purifies 99.9% of any possible toxins.”

“Dignity Bus is distinct, unique, and only exists with thanks from members of our blessed community,” shares Assistant Executive Director and Financial Manager Maureen Archer. “While most all of our programs are offered free to our clients, and in this case to students of our culinary training program, all others are charged a small fee to help promote commitment to the program and responsibility. We also include a complimentary hot breakfast in the morning.”

Sheriff Eric Flowers with Tony Zorbaugh in the driver’s seat.
Sheriff Eric Flowers with Tony Zorbaugh in the driver’s seat.

A local Source supporter, wishing to remain anonymous, was instrumental in helping to obtain the vehicle that ultimately was redesigned from stationary seating to sleeping pods in the bus. Her donation was made to honor her late husband who passed away in the summer of 2020. As a couple, their loyalty to supporting The Source, and Zorbaugh’s vision of helping others, was very meaningful to them.

Philanthropist George Shinn, a large supporter of the non-profit organization, has made a sizeable contribution to Dignity Bus, and his name appears on the exterior design. Mr. Shinn expresses, “As the founder of the George Shinn Foundation, I am dedicated to making a difference by providing for basic needs, answering calls for help in times of crisis, and equipping ministries. My support of the Dignity Bus fits that mission.”

Thanks to the generosity of Truist Financial Corporation (formerly Sun Trust Bank), and as part of its Lighthouse Project program that supports local, non-profits on projects to address critical community needs, blankets, sheets, and pillows for the bus have been supplied.

“We have created a special program to assist us in subsidizing all the costs associated with properly maintaining Dignity Bus on a yearly basis” explains Ms. Archer. “This program includes bedding, laundry, air-conditioning, maintenance, insurance, security costs, diesel fuel, and other general necessities that we anticipate could run as high as $70,000 annually.

To meet those needs, “Adopt a Pod” assists in subsidizing these costs. We continually seek sponsors, supporters, and investors willing to “Adopt a Pod” or multiple pods with either a one, two, or three-year donation. Each pod is $3,000 for one year; $6,000 for two years and $9,000 for three years. General Donations are always welcome.

These donations are tax-deductible and come with several benefits to the donor.” Interested donors can visit the website, www.iamthesource.org, and choose the DONATE button. They can add in their donation amount and in the comment box, notate that the donation is towards the Adopt a Pod Program.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (Click HERE to watch a
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (Click HERE to watch a video of the ceremony).

“Last March, an official Dignity Bus Community Launch with a ribbon-cutting by The Indian River County Chamber of Commerce was held” shares Mr. Zorbaugh. The area was large enough to hold the many local leaders, local observers, media, and friends of The Source who attended.

Interior tours, a video of the making of the Bus (Click HERE to watch this video), speeches, a prayer for the Bus, and complimentary refreshments were included. This was an ideal opportunity to communicate our mission of helping to transform lives in Indian River County and to share our important initiatives with the community that helps and supports us in a myriad of ways.”

Knowing that they had discovered this important yet temporary shelter concept for the homeless, Zorbaugh, along with Archer and their management team sat down and analyzed how they could promote this and spread the word across the country to others within the world of the homeless who are likely to be looking for an over-night sheltering program.

To that end, they are currently in the middle of packaging a Dignity Bus Tool Kit. As typical of a franchise program, the Tool Kit will allow people to design their own emergency shelter using a converted bus by following all the steps done by The Source. As soon as the Tool Kit is completed, interested parties will be able to obtain the information by visiting their website: www.iamthe-source.org.

“We are always looking for the next bus to purchase and to convert” Mr. Zorbaugh concludes. “Due to COVID, we have been forced to drop our capacity per night to 10 out of 20 beds, and with the cold weather at our fingertips, it concerns us. We know we have created something unique, yet necessary, and expansion to that is ever-present on our wish list. We know this is a game-changer for the homeless.”

For more information on Dignity Bus or to speak to either Anthony Zorbaugh (tony.zorbaugh@ iamthesource.org) or Maureen Archer (Maureen.archer@iamthesource.org) directly call (772) 564-0202 or visit www.iamthesource.org.

Article written by Anthony Zorbaugh

With a vast background in working with not-for-profit organizations, Anthony Zorbaugh joined The Source, a Christian-based outreach center that serves the homeless and poor in Indian River County Florida, in May 2017 as Executive Director.

His recent outreach, on behalf of The Source, has extended 500-miles across the state in 2020 to assist families hit by Hurricane Sally in Pensacola, Florida, as well as a flight to the Bahamas with a plane filled with food and other necessary supplies after several storms devastated the area. A trip to a Ministry in Flint, Michigan followed, offering advice to help their homeless and needy, and most recently, sent food, staff, and supplies to Miami FL following the condominium collapse.

Anthony has received local and national recognition for his implementation of a wide array of Dignity programs and services for his clients with, among others, Dignity Bus, Dignity Culinary Training Program (to certify clients for employment), Dignity Smiles (a dental restoration program), and is currently working on Dignity Village, a multi-acre community offering affordable housing, activity space for dining, praying and life skill training. Under Tony’s leader-ship, The Source gives options, alternatives, new ways of thinking, and helping people out of homelessness rather than perpetuating it.

For more information on The Source, visit www.iamthesource.org.
You can also follow The Source on Facebook and Instagram.

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