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Shades Tours Vienna

Walk through the city of Vienna © Patrick Sabitzer

A tour through Vienna’s underside

Something is holding you back strongly and the skepticism runs deep. Is it even permissible to look at poverty? Do you really want to do that? How is a tour about homelessness that puts the underside of Vienna on view actually constructed? Will you be shocked? Will you be moved to tears? It becomes clear is that the situation in which Vienna’s homeless find themselves is explained very matter-of-factly and in clear words. What is unique about the tour is that the guides are persons affected by homelessness. They speak very openly about the situation and are very hopeful that their work on the Shades Tours will serve as springboard back into everyday life.

This was also the underlying concept with which Perinne Schober founded the Shades Tours project in 2016. She wanted to create awareness of “peripheral groups” and to organize an encounter with them in order to deconstruct prejudices and highlight the complexity of this socio-political subject matter. She is able to offer the guides a job with the Shades Tours as well as the chance to participate actively in society once more.

A homeless person explains

Explanation of the Viennese social system © Shades Tours

Explanation of the Viennese social system © Shades Tours

The guide on my tour reveals that this will be his last one since the opportunity of another job has come up after a year of doing this. He admits that he will miss the tours, the contact with people and speaking to them. The loss of all social contacts, he repeats again and again, is the hardest thing about homelessness, and it also makes a return to normal life very difficult. Nobody feels comfortable in this situation. It is a spiral that leads downwards, and after around two years there is seldom an escape from it. Homeless people rarely live beyond 50 years old.

What do we learn? There are, for example, many places in Vienna where homeless people can get a meal. Our guide’s statement that “in Vienna, nobody needs to starve!” surprises me very much. He tells us about the profound lack of night shelters and the problems they have, about the illnesses that plague homeless people and where they can get help. Psychological support is also available and, even though it might be important to get it, the offer is taken up much too infrequently in his opinion.

Our guide informs us that the issue weaves its way through all strata of society and that men, women and children are affected by it equally. Domestic violence and addiction are the most common reasons for someone leaving their home or their job and ending up on the street.

The course of a Shades Tour

Toursituation © Shades Tour

Toursituation © Shades Tour

The tour lasts two hours. We pass by two food distribution points, one of which is the soup canteen in the Franciscan monastery where everybody (!) gets a hot meal. We do not enter though, as it is not meant to be a sightseeing tour of hardship, and that is how it should be. A Shades Tour is more of a talk while you walk, meaning you can process things a little in between stops. It is certainly bizarre to discuss homelessness and poverty while walking along the bustling Kärnter Straße. You cannot help but reflect.

I am convinced that every tour varies since the guides organize them individually, different questions are posed by each group and a completely unique dynamic develops on each one. In any case, it is an extraordinary experience during which you can do your bit for society at the same time.

Topics and times

Shades Tours take place throughout the year and in all weathers. They run under the heading of “Poverty and Homelessness” on the one hand, and have also focused on the topic of “Escape and Integration” since 2018. Tours on the matter of “Addiction and Drugs” are planned for the near future.

Times can be found here

English language tours are also available.

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