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City tours by homeless give insight into life on the streets

Invisible Cities trains people affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides.

By STV News

Published 17 Jul 2019.

An innovative project has been training people affected by homelessness to become tour guides of their own city.

First launched in Scotland in Edinburgh in 2016 and now in Glasgow, Invisible Cities is a social enterprise that trains people who have experienced homelessness to become walking tour guides, supporting them to give a deeply powerful and personal insight into life on the streets.

The idea came about after Zakia Mouilaoui, who worked briefly in Greece, stumbled across a similar scheme there.

"The whole training programme is based on confidence building and storytelling," says Zakia.

"The change that I see in our guides is how confident they are taking on these big tour groups, and how much they know about their cities and of how much they mix that in with their own narrative."

Invisible Edinburgh works with other organisations to reach out to homeless people, rather than approaching them directly on the streets.

According to official figures, more than 30,000 people applied for homeless status in Scotland last year.

Training takes place one day a week over a period of five weeks. There, people will be trained in skills like public speaking, first aid, managing large groups and building self-confidence.

"My mum remarried when I was about 10 and I didn't get on with my stepdad," says Invisible Cities guide Daniel.

"I got put out of the house at 16 and that was my first experience of sleeping rough."

Living in the woods for a while, Daniel fell into a chaotic lifestyle, often forced to sleep in homeless shelters well into his twenties.

It was after being taken on by the Big Issue that his life turned around, and it was there that he first heard about the project Invisible Cities.

"I went through training and then became the first guide in Glasgow to do the tour," he says.

"Because I grew up in Glasgow I knew a lot of the places, but I had to do research into some of the history and mix it with some of my own personal stories."

The guides are encouraged to come up with a unique theme for their tour, such as Daniel's theme of Crime and Punishment in old Glasgow.

"I tell you about some of the law breakers and law makers from Glasgow's past," says Daniel. "I also point out some of the invisible parts of the city that relate to my own past too."

The tours give a unique insight through first-hand accounts of what it is like to be in the city when you are homeless, combined with a raw human narrative of courage.

The project hopes to raise awareness of what being homeless really feels like in an attempt to dispel stereotypes.

As Daniel says, only a small handful of people used to stop to greet him when he was sleeping rough.

"Not everyone is going to want to help you...but just think if that was your brother or sister, or your mum and dad, how would you want them to be treated?

"That's my advice I guess, to always treat others how you would want to be treated."

For more information on the tours that are held in Glasgow and Edinburgh you can visit the Invisible Cities website.