The best way to have fun in London is to hang out with the homeless. Seriously, it’s amazing. If you have any reservations, please read on so we can explain why it’s not like riding a hobo train in a 1920’s novel where you likely get stabbed with a sharpened bean spoon, or end up with a severe case of tetanus from stubbing your toe on a rusty nail in the oxen cart.
While last year, local authorities sent thousands of homeless families to live in temporary homes outside the capital – in defiance of ministerial demands that people should continue to be housed locally – homelessness is still alive and well in London. In a slightly odd (but genius!) development in the radical travel market, homeless folk are becoming tour guides; some cities (in the US) have even turned homeless into wifi hotspots which caused some negative blowback on account of the degrading nature of “the job.” The trend has been growing across Europe and in San Francisco, where city tours are led by a homeless guide as an alternative way for visitors to see a totally different face of the city.
Back in 2010 London’s Unseen Tours made headlines after it gained popularity in the volunteer network Sock Mob that distributes socks and food to London’s homeless sons and daughters. They provided training and a rate of around £7-£10 per person with the guide keeping most of the earnings. Recent reports out of Prague indicate similar, albeit less organized, tours taking shape, where people pay a few homeless dudes about ten bucks to see the p dark places of prostitutes, pimps, gangs of thieves, drug dealers, and junkies.
In Amsterdam, things are a bit more blasé, and the homeless tour “Walking with a homeless guy in Amsterdam” is promoted through a registered event company that allows interested parties to reserve tickets online. While the idea is not to really raise money but seemingly to focus on some of the darkest aspects of cosmopolitan life and raise awareness, one can’t help but question the dubious nature of this trend. At the end of the day, human beings are human beings and these tours present a slippery slope towards exploitation and inoculating an important civic issue.