A late night charity bus rescue service which has saved the lives of at least two people is facing closure after vital funds have disappeared.
The SOS bus service which is based in Belfast had received praise for helping to reduce pressure on both the police and Accident and Emergency wards.
But Joe Hyland, chief executive officer of SOS Bus NI Ltd, said unless they are able to raise £250,000 within the next few weeks the service will close.
Opened in 2007, the 60ft bus mainly serves the Shaftesbury Square area at night offering food, tea and coffee and medical treatment to the public.
It was so successful a second bus was put on in Londonderry.
“We are hoping the public will help save the service that has helped look after their children and loved ones when they have been out,” Mr Hyland said.
“We have interacted with well over 50,000 people since the operation first started and we have taken hundreds of people back home or to hospital for treatment, if needed.
“We also saved at least two lives, one man who had a heart attack while another was hyperglycaemic.”
Mr Hyland said they have also removed weapons from people including baseball bats. The service had been financially supported by the PSNI and the NIO as well as the private sector.
“The Policing with the Community fund and the Northern Ireland Office gave us £100,000 between them to buy the first bus and a further £50,000 was offered in 2008,” Mr Hyland said.
“It was so successful we received £350,000 from NIO in 2008 which bought a second bus for Derry and provided some core funding. Businesses and members of the public have also donated almost £100,000, which was fantastic.”
Mr Hyland explained that financial pressures on agencies have grown during the current economic downturn and funding has become harder to find.
“They actually want to help us, but in these times and conditions and whenever there is a little bit of spare cash comes up, it is pulled back because of other priorities,” he said.
“I got a call from the board to say that we are in financial trouble and could have to stop the operation within weeks.
“The police have faced huge cuts. It is not that any one of these people in any way are not helpful, they are caught up in the financial world.”
Mr Hyland said he hoped the public will still recognise the benefits of the service and help save it.
If you want to make a donation contact the SOS bus office on 028 90664505, or log on to www.sosbusni.com.