Shades Tours Vienna

Vienna with a difference

Daniela Kurz
10 November 2016

Saturday afternoon. 02:30pm. Vienna Central Station. Vienna is covered in a grey curtain of clouds. It is cold. Freezing cold. With a black sign stating “Shades Tours”, Robert – our Shades Tours guide – awaits us at the entrance of Vienna’s Central Station.

Shades Tours Vienna address the topic of homelessness in Vienna. The Shades Tours Guides, who were/are affected themselves, lead small groups to places of interest that were/are relevant during their own life situations. This concept makes it possible to gain authentic insights into the life of homeless people in Vienna and, simultaneously provides employment for homeless. In addition, the concept is a vehicle challenging prejudice and false stigma against homeless people.

Let’s face it: Many of us associate homeless people with dirty clothes, cigarettes and alcohol. Nevertheless, our tour guide turns out to be a young, well-groomed, highly educated man with outstanding rhetorical abilities – as we may experience during our tour.

To begin with, Robert asks us about our expectations of the upcoming tour. “Getting an insight ‘behind the scenes’, getting to know the real background stories, discovering another side of Vienna”, a young woman answers. “Removing prejudices”, a participant explains. “Getting to know Vienna’s social network”, another participant adds. This is how it should happen.

Before we walk across the central station towards the P7, Robert explains us terms such as “eligible for benefit”, “not eligible for benefit”, “homeless” and “shelterless”. On the way, we discuss potential causes for homelessness such as illness, divorce, trauma, loss of life, etc. while Robert tells us his “story”.

We stop in front of P7, a day-care centre run by the NGO Caritas. The P7 is an initial point of contact as well as a retreat for many homeless people. Robert also calls it “the Booking.com for the homeless”, because the P7 allocates and manages the bed-allotments of all emergency overnight accommodations in Vienna. In addition, people who are registered as homeless can pick up their mail at P7 and can conduct consultations with committed social workers.

We continue our tour to the Schweizerpark, a local park where Robert tells us about some social facilities and the social offer of the city of Vienna. At the park, we learn about the most emotional and human aspect of homelessness. Personal stories. Incidences Robert experienced at the park. People he met here. Experiences he made here.

Even though some of the questions we ask are very personal, Robert tries to answer them all and expresses his point of view. The strength he has and the way he deals with these very personal questions is something we all very much admire him for.

The air has become even colder and dusk is falling. Together we walk back to the central station where the tour ends and Robert waves us goodbye after 165 minutes full of interesting facts, personal stories and emotions.

Saturday afternoon. 04:45pm. Vienna Central Station. Vienna is still covered in a grey curtain of clouds. We are all looking forward to going back to our warm and cosy flats and houses – places we call our homes – appreciating this comfort more than ever.

Our summary of the Shades Tour: Inspirational. Informative. Touching. Eye opening.