A £145,000 bus designed to rescue vulnerable young people suffering from alcohol and drug abuse has been launched at Stormont.
The project is run by SOS Bus NI which supports young people in Belfast’s night-time economy on Friday and Saturday nights.
The new Alcohol Recovery Centre (ARC) is a fully equipped minor injuries unit complete with eight patient beds – the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. It will take to Belfast’s Great Victoria Street at the weekends.
Operated by volunteers, the ARC has been fully funded by the voluntary sector and private donations.
Chief executive Joe Hyland told the News Letter the bus has beds, showers, toilets and communications linked to the emergency services.
The aim is to have a live video-link with an accident and emergency consultant.
The charity began eight years go and has 260 trained volunteers. It previously ran a bus in the city centre and one at the Odyssey.
“It takes the pressure off the emergency services,” said Mr Hyland. It also runs three – soon to be four – minibuses across the city and a team of foot patrols.
“Our public sector is diminishing,” he said, nodding to cutbacks in health and policing.
“There is just not enough money to find the young people who are in need on our streets. People will always take illicit substances and become vulnerable and that is when we come in.”
The charity engaged with 35,000 people last year, 750 of whom “required immediate intervention”.
Around 170 were transported to hospital and three lives were saved – not including another five during a DJ Hardwell gig at the Odyssey Arena last year.
“We have also stopped several rapes. Our volunteers see two guys helping a drunk girl into a taxi and challenge them – and the guys run off.”
The charity hires paramedics for weekend shifts and hopes to take on two casualty nurses and a support worker soon.