Italian restaurants in Portsmouth are offering free meals to city’s rough sleepers

Robert Dolling Project volunteers celebrate the launch of the Homeless Bus. Credit: Keith Woodland
Robert Dolling Project volunteers celebrate the launch of the Homeless Bus. Credit: Keith Woodland
Mark Bibby

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A PAIR of Italian restaurants are set to join forces with a homelessness service offering free meals.

O Solo Mio in Port Solent and Bella Calabria in North End will launch the partnership with the Robert Dolling Project at 6pm tonight.

Parked outside St Agatha’s Church in Market Way, Portsmouth, they will serve from the initiative’s Homeless Bus – which began providing crisis accommodation to rough sleepers last month.

Chefs will give bus tenants a freshly-cooked main course, soft drinks and pudding.

The owner of the restaurants, Gianni Vaccaro, said: ‘The recent cold snap acted as a stark reminder about challenges those sleeping rough in Portsmouth have to confront daily.

‘I am delighted that I am in a position to help these vulnerable people and a great community led project and it would be great to see other businesses doing the same.’

Initially offering their services on a monthly basis, the eateries soon hope to operate from the bus every week.

Leo Ciccarone, a spokesman for the Robert Dolling Project, said: ‘We continue to be amazed by the generosity of local people and businesses.

‘Almost everyday we get offers of help and support and now these two restaurants are helping to feed the city’s rough sleepers.

‘I want to thank Gianni and his team for this incredibly generous gesture and I hope others will consider extending this service.’

The bus – an old route master – was the brainchild of Joanne Vines and Sammy Barcroft and was made available to the Robert Dolling Project at the end of last year.

But organisers of the project - named after priest and social reformer at St Agatha’s, Father Robert Dolling - say it was held up by ‘bureaucracy and red tape’ until February – when they secured insurance for the stationary vehicle.

The drive gets under way as government statistics show numbers of rough sleepers across the country soared by 169 per cent from 1,800 in 2010 to as many as 4,700 on any given night, in 2017.

Looking ahead to the service of ‘delicious’ Italian food, Mr Ciccarone added: ‘Once again I want to thank to Gianni, O Solo Mio and Bella Calabria for their kindness.

‘I know we are looking forward to seeing all the amazing and delicious food that will be served over the coming weeks and months.

‘The whole team at the Robert Dolling Project would also like to thank the many others gestures of support we have received, from laundry services to security.’