Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Homeless people present tours

STREET WISE:An organization has set up a program offering tours of Taipei using homeless people as guides in an effort to help them get back on their feet

Staff writer, with CNA

A local charitable organization called Homeless Taiwan has launched a program featuring an unconventional walking tour of Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), employing homeless people as tour guides.

Homeless Taiwan devised the program, dubbed Hidden Taipei, to help homeless people get back on their feet, saying it is aware that the people are among those who know the city best because they consider the streets to be their homes.

In the program, homeless tour guides will lead tourists around several scenic spots in old Wanhua, such as the Ai Ai Nursing Home and Wanhua 12th Park.

The organization created the scheme drawing inspiration from a similar project called Unseen Tours that was launched by a grassroots volunteer network in London called The Sock Mob, which helps homeless people find jobs as tour guides on the streets where they live.

Similar initiatives have been launched in Berlin, Copenhagen and Barcelona.

This type of tour helps overturn common prejudices toward homeless people, said Tseng Wen-chin (曾文勤), a worker in the IT industry who helped the organization map out the program after he was impressed by the British operation when he took one of its tours in May last year.

Tseng said he used to think of homeless people as simply unemployed people who sit around doing nothing, but he discovered that the guide who took him around London was a university graduate who worked on odd jobs.

Homeless Taiwan has trained four tour guides for the tour program, including one who formerly ran a successful business, but ended up with huge debts. To avoid becoming a burden to his wife and children, he left his family, Homeless Taiwan chief executive officer Lee Ying-tzi (李盈姿) said.

The guides will not only tell stories about Taipei, but will also bring their own stories to well-known landmarks in the city, the organization said, adding that the tours last two hours, including one-and-a-half hours touring the streets and a 30-minute question-and-answer session.

The guides have received six months of training, covering literature, history and mental health therapy, it said.

The program encourages homeless people to talk about themselves, offers them jobs and helps them create new lives, Lee said.

The program began a test run this month, allowing bookings by social welfare groups and schools, with each tour costing NT$2,000.

The program will officially begin in August.

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