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Homeless become city tour guides

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Photo: Faruk Pinjo
12:46 CET+01:00
A new startup in Vienna aims to help homeless people by creating guided tours of the city from their perspective.

Shades Tours Vienna is the brainchild of 32-year-old businesswoman Perrine Schober, who wants to challenge people’s prejudices and help homeless people access the job market.

Schober studied tourism management and has worked for various aid organizations. With the Shades Tours she intends to use her entrepreneurial skills to benefit an often forgotten section of society. There are 12,000 registered homeless people in Austria, and 7,100 of those are in Vienna.

The two and a half hour tour is led by a homeless person and explores three different locations: an emergency night shelter, a soup kitchen, and a training or social worker session.

"It's about increasing awareness of homelessness and also trying to reduce the fear and stigma associated with homeless people,” Schober said.

The tours take place outside of normal shelter opening times, so as not to disturb people's privacy. The group rate for ten participants is €150 - and the target audience is school and university groups, businesses and social organisations, and church groups.

Schober hopes the tour might help some homeless people re-enter the labour market,  a process which is often hampered by prejudice. "Being involved in the tours could be something that future employers use as a reference for reliability and a willingness to work", she said.

“The tour won’t focus on the guide’s personal story - it would be unfair to make them retell their story which could be very painful,” Schober added. It will be up to the guide how much she or he wants to talk about themselves. The focus is on the future, and how society and a city can help its homeless get back on their feet.

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One guide, Dieter, told the ORF that the tour is unlikely to appeal to tourists looking for photo opportunities, but is aimed at people who want to find out what it’s like to be homeless. "Homelessness can happen to anyone. Once I was the man who thought it could never happen to him,” he said. After many years working in the Austrian army the former soldier suffered from burnout, and eventually ended up on the streets.

So far, four people have received training to become guides and Schober hopes that many more will follow. The business is financed by the money raised by the tour price.

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