Dignity Bus offers the homeless an innovative place to rest overnight in Brevard and Indian River counties
At any given time, there are approximately 250 homeless people living in Indian River County and between 3,000 and 3,500 in Brevard County. Some sleep in cars. Others live in tents. Still others simply throw an old blanket on the ground in the woods and try to get a few hours rest.
They are everyday people who are simply down on their luck and struggling to get back on their feet. In addition to the basic need for food, clothing and housing, what these people really need is a good night’s sleep to face the hurdles of the following day.
The Source is a Vero Beach-based Christian Outreach Ministry that has offered life changing services to residents in crisis since 1995. It recognized the critical need for the homeless population to get a good night’s sleep and introduced the Dignity Bus to Indian River County in March 2021.
The bus is a 45-foot vehicle that’s been converted to an overnight shelter for those who have nowhere else to go. Its customized interior provides 20 secure, climate controlled individual sleep pods with a lockable door, under-bus storage, pet pods for companion animals, an onboard overnight security person and monitored CCTV surveillance. While it is not a long-term solution to homelessness, it does provide 7,300 temporary nightly sleeps yearly.
“We designed this initially for our culinary students who were working toward a job but had nowhere to go at night,” said Anthony Zorbaugh, executive director of The Source. “So, we got creative. A donor bought us a bus and we had it retrofitted in Orlando for a cost of about $100,000. The overnight accommodations have been at full capacity since its inception.”
FIRST OF ITS KIND
The Dignity Bus model, which was the first of its kind in this country, has been so successful that other cities have been inquiring as to how they can utilize the safe sleep concept for their own communities.
One of the first cities to inquire was Palm Bay, just 30 miles north of Vero Beach. Following meetings and presentations to city officials, plans began for the development of the second Dignity Bus to serve South Brevard County. A partnership was established between The Source, the City of Palm Bay and the St. Vincent De Paul Society of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Palm Bay.
The Palm Bay Dignity Bus is slightly smaller at 40 feet, with 16 secure pods and all the bells and whistles providing 5,840 safe sleeps per year. Zorbaugh retained the blueprints for the original bus and found a retro-fitter in Clewiston who completed the second bus for just $50,000.
The Source paid for the bus, insurance and hired the staff and started operating in Palm Bay immediately. The Palm Bay City Council gave it $8,900 to get it started and Community Foundation for Brevard has awarded The Source grants to help defray costs.
The arrival of the bus in January was perfect timing. Just a few weeks earlier, a fire gutted South Brevard’s only cold weather shelter at Truth Revealed Int’l Ministries on Palm Bay Road. Zorbaugh and Bishop Merton L. Clark, who oversaw the shelter, quickly worked to redirect those seeking shelter to the Dignity Bus.
Volunteers from the St. Vincent De Paul Society of St. Joseph’s Parish have taken over the operations of the bus, registering guests for the night, providing them with a nightly meal and helping them find ways to improve their lives.
“We’ve been at almost full capacity every night,” said Bruce Brosnahan, president of the St. Vincent DePaul Society. “We have an aide and a driver on the bus each night making sure there are no problems and tending to their comfort. Every Friday we provide them with mobile showers, haircuts and beard trims so they look presentable for their job searches.”
“Brevard County is an excellent fit for our expansion, enabling us to replicate our successful programs for those less fortunate and in need,” Zorbaugh said. “We’ve presented the Dignity Bus concept to communities in Miami, Michigan and even as far away as Ireland and we are currently producing a tool kit for those who want to replicate our plan. The Dignity Bus has been trademarked and we might even be producing buses for other communities in the future.”
The buses park at an undisclosed location from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. after making several pick up stops for those registered for the night. A fee of $2 per night is charged to make passengers committed and responsible. Overnight guests must adhere to shelter guidelines or they will be asked to leave.
Rose, a young woman who has been a regular overnight guest on the bus, credits The Source with saving her life.
“I was on a dangerous path and I’ve received the help and guidance I needed from The Source,” she said. “I work in The Source’s kitchen and also stuffing Sic Sac® Motion Sickness Bags for money to pay for the bus and necessities. I know I can get a good night’s sleep where I’m safe and protected from bugs. I hope to reconnect with family soon and gain back their trust.”
Each Dignity Bus is very distinctively wrapped with an image of Christ welcoming his flock.
“You might notice that the image of Christ is different on each bus. That is because the scriptures say that we are all created in his image and our buses will reflect that diversity,” Zorbaugh explained.
“It also says Dignity Bus — a way to the village. We have purchased an 18-unit facility in Sebastian, which is currently being converted into Dignity Village providing temporary housing for individuals while they are on their journey to moving on with their life.
“The single greatest reason for homelessness is a profound catastrophic loss of family. Our goal is to reconnect them with a sense of community and give them a purpose to change their life,” Zorbaugh continued. “I believe that everyone can live a lifestyle of abundance and we are here to help walk them through the process. The Source becomes their temporary family.”
Each bus is funded by corporate donors, investors and individuals who give generous gifts to subsidize the conversion of the bus and operational expenses including staffing, bedding, laundry, air conditioning, maintenance, insurance, security and gasoline.
Those costs run approximately $120,000 per year. To help subsidize the bus, individuals or organizations can adopt a pod for $3,000 a year or simply make a general donation to the Palm Bay or Vero Beach Dignity Bus through The Source.
The Source operates from its outreach facility at 1015 Commerce Ave., Vero Beach, and is open seven days a week. In addition to offering life-changing possibilities to residents in crisis, The Source offers emergency hunger relief, clothing, counseling, support groups, hygiene items, showers, mail and telephone services, benefit referrals, and much more.
As first responders, The Source helps provide critical care for physical, spiritual, civic and social needs. For more information on The Source or the Dignity Bus, please visit www.Iamthesource.org or call 772.564.0202.
Kerry Firth is a native Floridian who has lived in Vero Beach for nearly 40 years. She is the founder and former publisher of a local tourism guide, who recently became semiretired so she could enjoy the freedom of freelance writing for a variety of local publications.