Several years ago, I was part of a project to raise awareness of how the homeless live. In the U.K.'s winter, a group of students bunked down for the night outside with just sleeping bags.
It was horrendously cold, and I found myself looking upwards, pleading silently for a cup of a tea and a hot bath.
You would be forgiven thinking living outdoors is one of the worst things about not having a roof over your head, but the next day I bunked down and asked a homeless man, in his mid-thirties, about it over a coffee. To my surprise, he said it wasn't the weather, lack of food or money which was the worst -- it was invisibility.
"Noone sees you," he said to me. "Not willing to catch your eye, or even say good morning, in case you ask for money. They're embarrassed. You don't exist."
When I read about a new set of walking tours being launched this week in Bath, it was this invisibility that I remembered. Dr. Luke Tregidgo is the mind behind The Secret City Tours, which are all conducted by people who are, or have been, homeless.
The walks include all of Bath's main tourist attractions, complete with hidden gems and "undiscovered stories," and is currently being funded by a support agency for enterprises. Dr. Tregidgo commented:
"We've got year-round tourism and some fantastic sites, but also a massive problem with homelessness, so why not leverage the city’s greatest asset -- its tourists -- to solve one of its biggest social problems?"
These sorts of schemes may not solve the deeper problems behind homelessness -- but at the least, they could make homeless people feel less invisible, and more part of their city.
Image credit: Jim Fischer