Eric, 35, Expat in Vienna - from Canada
“Couple of weeks ago I went on a Shades Tours. Our guide was amazing: his clarity in answering questions as well as his openness, honesty, and vulnerability to speak about his homelessness. I greatly appreciated the information and anecdotes he provided during the tour and I would like to think I learned a great deal. I would highly recommend Shades Tours to those looking for an honest and informative experience. This tour has genuinely changed my life. Thank you Shades Tours and I hope you continue your wonderful work.”
Tomasz & Anna
“Our Shades Tours Guide was a great great guide: very comunicative, friendly, good prepared and sincere. The most important for us was his true view to the situation of homeless people in the city, in lots of aspects: psychological, social, everyday life. He responded to each question and provided us with straight solutions and addresses to give some clothes or where to donate prepared meals for homeless. We recommend his guidance for all those who like us want to bring real help to homeless people.”
A Not So Bright Look at Vienna, World’s Top City for Quality of Life - Author: Juanita Perez (Sept. 2016)
Dieter looks around the kitchen for a Tabasco bottle to season tonight´s spaghetti sauce, while Robert cuts lettuce for the Greek salad. Meanwhile, forty-seven hungry men are looking forward to savouring their first warm meal of the day. These table companions are allowed to enter the emergency overnight accommodation VinziPort every day at 6 p.m. This men-only residence offers them food and the possibility to shower and stay over night. The males using this emergency overnight accommodation originate from EU countries and come from different walks of life, but all share the fate of being homeless.
SHADES TOURS offers an activity called “Just Cook With Us” which lasts four hours and shows participants how shelters are run and gives them the opportunity to help out in the kitchen. “When participants of SHADE TOURS come and cook with us, we allow them to get hands-on experience. They love the challenge of cooking for a large group in a huge kitchen. How often do you get a change to do this,” says the amiable Carinthian cook Dieter. “In addition, we dig deeper into the issues and complexity of homelessness, in order for them to understand why they are actually volunteering their time.” SHADES TOURS herby organises the menu and the set-up and arranges everything so that the cooking group can focus on the information the guides provides them with.
The two cooks are wearing an apron that reads SHADES TOURS. They both are guides for an Austrian social start-up which organises tours to acquaint participants with homelessness in Vienna and to show how the city deals with this issue. The concept of “Tours guided by Homeless” already exists in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Prag, Berlin and London and was initiated in Vienna by businesswoman Perrine Schober.
Robert comes from Germany and shares his life story with tour participants at VinziPort. They have come to the shelter to witness, first-hand, what it means to be homeless and to challenge prejudice in one of the EU’s richest economies. Vienna has, in fact, ranked top in the last seven published rankings of the Mercer Quality of Life study.
Vienna´s distinction can, however, not be felt in VinziPort´s rather austere kitchen. Robert explains, as always at the beginning of a tour, that he is not eligible for homeless benefits in Vienna. He goes in detail: “I am a EU citizen and I am entitled to work. But in the moment that one becomes homeless, one is not entitled to a minimum insurance or to benefit from social housing, if certain criteria are not met. This is a big problem for me, because in my case I depend on private aid.” Vinziport, for example, is totally financed by private donations and for this, it can help those individuals, like me, who are otherwise not eligible to receive state-run aid.
While Robert is chopping the salad, he explains to me that working together with SHADES TOURS has enabled him to break the too common vicious circle that stops homeless from getting back to society and provides a deep insight into how the social welfare system here in Vienna works. Only the so-called Anspruchsberechtigte, that is those who are eligible by law for social security benefits, state-run social services, community housing and, thus, also for a postal address can receive social welfare benefits. To be eligible for benefits, one previously had to have an official residence registration form for Vienna for at least two years and one had to contribute to the social insurance system for at least half a year. Now, as a result of the refugee crisis and right-wing populist party politics, these periods were increased to five years: one has to be officially registered here in Vienna and one has to officially work for two of those years and, thus, contribute to the social insurance system. VinziPort is not run by the state and can therefore be used by all those who are not anspruchsberechtigt, i.e., eligible for benefit.
For the first time since Robert has been in Austria, he meets some conditions to get some help from the state. SHADES TOURS pays him for working as a guide and as a cook. Robert tells me: “My future was very uncertain. I am very lucky to have met Perrine Schober, because she gave me the opportunity to have a job. In this way, I can finally have a postal address. I can now register with the AMS (Public Employment Service Austria). I will not benefit from social security, but at least they can help me find a job. If I did not have this job, I would still have nothing.”
Referring to the public of the different tours he guides, Robert says that independently from the background of the participants, they are always surprised to hear how the social system in Vienna works. The majority is not familiar with the different requirements to be eligible for state aid. He also mentions to the participants that he works together with people who have the feeling of having failed in life and that there is a big amount of frustration and shame in being homeless. “The great emotional stress makes the issue of homelessness far more complex,” Robert adds.
Having become homeless himself, Robert now looks at other homeless in the streets of Vienna in a very empathetic way. And empathy is exactly one of the effects he wishes to elicit on those joining the SHADES TOURS. Before, he would pass by beggars or homeless and would ask himself: “why doesn’t this person get a job? “ “what does he want here?”. Now he has become a more open and tolerant human being. “Now when I see beggars in the streets,” he explains, “or destitute men here at the shelter, I immediately understand what psychological and emotional burden is behind their situation and how difficult it is to escape from it.” Robert´s eyes brighten up as he says: “But there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Specially for those who are hardworking. Nobody holds your hand, nobody tells you to remain motivated, or to shower every morning. It obviously is one`s sole responsibility”
Dieter is a strong man whose tattoos and resilient appearance contrast with the detail and love he puts into the cooking of an enormous pot of tomato sauce. He also works as a cook and as a guide for SHADES TOURS. He proudly tells me about his many years in the army and as a high flyer at a private company. After a burnout, he decided to go on an unpaid leave, knowing he would never go back to his previous job. And that exactly was the problem… UNPAID. He very well knew that he could quickly escape misery, by quitting his job and getting unemployment benefits, but this psychological blockage of giving up these 28 years in the army prevented him to do so. This dramatic twist of fate has taught him to live with less.
He now has a small apartment and specially a much needed daily schedule which gives structure to his days. Now that Dieter came back from the streets and has an apartment and a job, he says he has everything he needs. What he likes most about the tours is that he never imagined that there would be so many people interested in the topic of homelessness. “I like that one can show them a real picture of the situation so that they get rid of prejudice and see that we are totally normal human beings”, says Dieter with a big smile. “The fact that I don’t have a house does not make me a bad person. I enjoy it very much when I talk to school children because we do preventive work and dispel prejudice. And independently of what kind of tour we offer, one always meets very interesting people”, he explains.
Dieter and Robert are not only tour guides, but design the tours for school children which they run very successfully. This particular public appeals to them as they value its prophylactic effect. As the „Just Cook With Us“ event comes to an end, I am left with the feeling that Robert, Dieter and myself have a lot in common and I leave sharing their newly-won optimism of finally having a brighter future in the world’s top city for quality of life.
Information: SHADES TOURS are held in English and German and can be scheduled upon request (4 participants minimum - max. 15 persons) - cost € 15,- per person and last for 2 hours SHADES TOURS also organises the cooking groups „Just Cook With Us“ which are for groups (max. 5 participants) or individuals. This 3,5 hours experience costs € 12,- per person and includes the service of the guides, an insightful presentation of the topic and of the shelter and diner. Available dates can be found on www.shades-tours.com
For our coporate cooking sessions in homeless shelters we are looking for cookies, cakes, müsli bars, chocolates with a …
We would like to create an action plan based on our Google Analytics data. What can we do better? How? :-)
We would like to raise awareness on our Instagram Channel and could need a hand with content creation (insta-photos, cli…
We are always looking for people with a good eye for photos of our tours (high quality) - that we can use on Instagram …
We are looking for people in different European countries who can pitch our media and press releases to the write newspa…
We need help from someone that is good with SEO strategies and can tell us how to unleash the potential of our website. …
Contribute other skills
Want to help with something that isn’t listed here? Get in touch and lend a hand!