Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's late night rescue bus in plea to stay on road

By Joanne Sweeney

Belfast's SOS Bus street service will be forced to cease unless a funding shortfall of £27,500 can be pledged within nine days, it has been revealed.

The board of the charity - which provides late night aid and support to any vulnerable or injured person on the city's streets - will meet on December 10 to take a decision to close its operations if it faces insolvency by the end of the year.

Last night the charity's chief executive Joe Hyland confirmed the service was currently facing "serious" cashflow problems.

It has raised only £22,500 of the £50,000 budget shortfall that the service has to contend with this year following recent cuts to public funders' budgets, such as the PSNI.

The charity immediately created a fundraising campaign called SOS 100 Club, aiming to get 100 businesses and individuals to promise a minimum of £1,000 to keep the service going.

Despite pledges from city centre businesses and individuals prepared to give £1,000 out of their personal savings, there's still an urgent need to raise the extra funds to keep the £280,000 a year service going.

Last night Mr Hyland said: "This is serious. If I don't have the funds in place by December 10 my board has made it clear that if they don't feel that we are solvent, they will have no choice but to wind us up.

"The PSNI and Ambulance Service, licensed premises and taxi drivers - no one wants to see us stop doing what we do.

"But it doesn't matter whether it's from a green purse or an orange purse, there's just no (public) money," said the man who founded the charity with a group of friends after a serious late night assault on a member of his own family.

The SOS Bus service famously proved its worth as it worked alongside the emergency services to deal with a major incident outside Belfast's Odyssey Arena on February 6, when dozens of inebriated teenagers required emergency assistance.

The collective effort was later praised by then Health Minister Edwin Poots for helping to prevent "a major tragedy".

Mr Hyland later told of how his volunteers dealt with three youngsters under 16, one aged just 13, who admitted drinking a whole bottle of vodka in an hour.

The SOS Bus service is provided in the Shaftesbury Square area, off the Dublin Road, every Friday and Saturday night, and every Saturday night outside the Odyssey complex.

The service has received £35,000 funding from the PSNI each year since it was created in November 2007.

The £51.4m cut to the PSNI's budget this year and a predicted 10-15% cut to its budget next year means that this source of funding can no longer be relied upon by the charity. "It's not just the loss of the PSNI funding, there was other public funding money that we hoped to get that has not materialised," said Mr Hyland.

"The problem was when this £51m cuts impacted on the PSNI and they stopped all their funding, that hit us very late on in the end.

"My year end is December 31, so I have had very little time to look at how else I could raise the revenue."

He added: "I'm working really hard to make it happen.

"Next year will look after itself. The truth is it's in my character to be hopeful, otherwise I couldn't live in the world that I live in."

The SOS Bus service is operated by 240 volunteers, who normally work two night shifts every month.

Further information on how to become a member of the SOS 100 Club or to donate to the charity can be obtained from its website www.sosbusni.com, or by ringing 028 9066 4505.

The yellow-fleeced guardian angels selflessly protecting and serving public  

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