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Paris ‘homeless tours’ take tourists off the beaten path

Wikipedia / Parc de Belleville in northeast Paris

Following in the steps of London, Berlin and Barcelona, Paris has become the latest major European city to offer guided tours by homeless people.


What if tourism could help to take homeless people off the streets? Alternative Urbaine runs walking tours in the Belleville district in northeast Paris, taking tourists well off the Eiffel Tower – Montmartre – Notre Dame beaten track. The association aims not simply to provide an authentic experience for visitors but also to help homeless people get back on their feet.

“What better way than to combine a social and fair economy with tourism to create employment for people who are living mostly on the fringes of our society”, reads a statement on the association's website.

Alternative Urbaine was set up by Selma Sardouk in 2013. The association’s guide, Vincent, used to work in the fast-food industry, then ended up on the streets after a bout of depression. He began working as a guide last February and makes about 500 euros a month. He is now living in an emergency shelter.

“I have more trust in myself, I have projects for the future.... It’s nice to give something to people”, Vincent, who will take a course in September to become an instructor, told France Info radio.

'Sense of belonging'

“Each person works with us for only one year. The idea is not that they become professional tourist guides, but that they find a job or some training”, Selma Sardouk told a local news website.

According to France Info, most people who attended the Alternative Urbaine walking tour last weekend were actually Parisians. A tourist guide from Argentine, Freddy, also joined the tour to have a closer look at the social initiative.

“It was very nice to see the city through the eyes of a homeless person, it’s a great idea. It’s also interesting to see that French people attended the tour”, Freddy told France Info.

“I think that Vincent can enjoy a new sense of belonging to [French] society.”

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