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Talk of the Day -- Homeless give alternative Taipei tours

2014/06/12 19:23:55

Photo courtesy of Hidden Taipei organization's Facebook page

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

Aware that the homeless are among those who know the city best because they see the city's streets as their homes and spend considerable amounts of time on the streets and are familiar with every corner of the city, Homeless Taiwan devised the program, dubbed Hidden Taipei, to help them get back on their feet.

The following are excerpts of coverage of the program by the United Daily News:

Under the program, homeless tour guides will lead tourists around several scenic spots in Taipei's old Wanhua district, 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 the homeless, said Tseng Wen-chin, a worker in the information technology 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 2013.

Tseng said he used to think of the homeless as simply unemployed people who sit around doing nothing. But he found out that the homeless tour guide who took him around London was a university graduate who did odd jobs of several types.

Homeless Taiwan has initially 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 and became homeless, according to Lee Ying-tzi, chief executive officer of Homeless Taiwan.

Homeless guides will not only tell stories about Taipei but will also bring their own stories to well-known landmarks in the city.

The tours last for two hours, including one-and-a-half hours touring the streets and 30 minutes for a question-and-answer session.

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

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

The program began a test run in June, allowing bookings by social welfare groups and schools, with the cost of each tour at NT$2,000 (US$67). It will officially begin in August. (June 12, 2014)

(By Evelyn Kao)