THERE is no doubt solving Colchester’s homeless and rough sleeper issues is complex and will take a lot of work from many organisations.

But that doesn’t mean little victories are not possible - and the Colchester Rough Sleepers Group’s night bus is proving that.

The team was born shortly after a by-election in Shrub End in September 2017, which saw Conservative Vic Flores take top spot ahead of Lib Dem Sam McCarthy, then Green candidate Victoria Weaver - now a Labour Party member - and independent Mike Clark. The foursome are now united and leading the charge to get a double decker bus fitted out with eight sleeping pods upstairs and a downstairs communal area, complete with a small kitchen and washing facilities.

Since the idea was launched, the group has been joined by outreach worker Christina Shields, who is already a well-known face to many of the town’s rough sleepers, and project manager Alistair Goodge.

The aim is to take eight homeless people and rough sleepers off the street each night by picking them up in the town centre and driving to an out-of-town location.

Crucially, the bus will include a number of dog crates for the dogs of the homeless people and rough sleepers who do not want to part with their canine pals - an issue which can be a barrier to indoor overnight stays elsewhere.

Mr Flores, a spokesman for the group, said: “We have really come a long way in what has been a really good nine months for us.

“Just recently the mattresses have arrived so the sleeping pods are almost completed.

“We will have room for eight people, which is a good number to get us started after we have launched.”

He added: “We are keen to get it launched before the really cold weather hits, so hopefully we could be on the streets by the end of February.

“Christina is already out there working really hard and building up that trust with people, which is so important when it comes to this sort of thing.”

One of the main men behind the plans is former independent candidate, Mike Clark, who has used up a lot of his holiday time to work on the bus.

Mr Flores said: “Mike has been absolutely fantastic. You couldn’t ask for anything more. When he’s not at work, he’s at the bus and he is a real driving force for us.”

But the whole project wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for an anonymous benefactor who stumped up £25,000 to buy, fit out and insure the bus after the group’s plans were first featured in the Gazette.

The scheme has also attracted huge support from the public as well as a number of kind donations.

Mr Flores said: “Honestly, we haven’t had any negative comments to speak about. The reaction to our social media has always been positive and I think people are really getting behind what we are trying to do here.

“And we have had really fantastic support from Mark Cory, leader of the Lib Dems and my own group leader Darius Laws and we’re really grateful for that.”

But the Conservative recognises the bus is not a panacea and homelessness and rough sleeping will continue to be an issue in Colchester.

He added: “It is hard not to be a fan a of the housing first approach. It pretty much has eradicated rough sleeping and homelessness in Finland but I honestly believe a roof over their head is only half of it.

“The other half is the incredible amount of support they need.

“You could build 100 penthouses and within a week, there are people who might already have lost their tenancies, simply because they do not have the support they need.”

Perhaps the team’s biggest news of late is the granting of charity status, which Mr Flores described as a “game changer”.

It means the group can now apply for official grants and will be able to claim gift aid on donations.

Until the bus hits the streets, the group will remain in regular contact with Marina Woodrow, of the Colchester Emergency Night Shelter, to make sure - as far as possible - the entry rules for each are broadly the same so there is no impact on the shelter.

He added: “The work the shelter has done in Colchester is incredible and it would be silly not to use that experience which the likes of Marina has.”

In the meantime, it’s back to work for the team, who are in need of help from a carpenter and a plumber.

To get in touch with Mr Flores, call 07379987181