Archive for December, 2010

Homeless people give an alternative guide to London

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Homeless tour guides have been signed up to give visitors to the capital an alternative view of London’s landmarks

On a squally August evening near London Bridge two tour guides are taking a group of tourists on an unconventional walking tour of the capital. The pair have long and chaotic histories of homelessness, so in addition to the usual tourist attractions, they share with their audience glimpses of their street life.

“I slept under that bridge for six months,” says Viv Askeland, 54, pointing down the river Thames to Blackfriars Bridge. Fellow tour guide, Hazel Wilding, 52, adds: “When I slept on my own, I made sure there were cameras around me.”

The women are part of the workforce of Unseen Tours, a pilot scheme helping homeless people to find sustainable work as tour guides on the streets they once lived on. Part of the London fringe festival this month, Askeland and Wilding, along with two homeless men in east London, have been hosting walking tours five days a week.

Wilding pauses outside the Clink museum, built on the site of a notorious medieval prison, in a narrow cobbled street. “This really upsets me,” she says, before telling the 30-strong crowd about the so-called Winchester geese – prostitutes regulated within the area’s brothels by the Bishop of Winchester, who owned the Clink.

Pimps without Cadillacs

“[The bishops] were like the pimps without the pink Cadillacs,” says Wilding. “The bishop was like an inspector,” adds Askeland. “He taxed them all.”

The tour concludes at the centuries old Cross Bones graveyard, unconsecrated ground for Bankside’s prostitutes and now a disused carpark. The gates have been threaded with ribbons, mandalas, trinkets and jewellery. “This is where the Winchester geese got buried,” says Wilding. “It’s for the outcast dead.”

The idea for Unseen Tours came from a grassroots volunteer network, the Sock Mob, so called because it regularly distribute socks and food to London’s homeless people. Co-organiser Lidija Mavra set it up seven years ago with friends. “We spontaneously used to send an email out once in a while and say let’s go out on to the streets and hear [homeless people's] stories because they’re lonely and isolated. The socks were a way of breaking the ice,” she says.

Having expanded the network to around 400 volunteers over the internet, the organisers launched Unseen Tours as a social enterprise, Sock Mob Events. In February, they received £4,000 funding from UnLtd, a charity that supports social entrepreneurs.

The point of the tours, says Mavra, is to, “present [homeless people] in a very different light so that people can see them as having something to offer. We tend to have this very doom and gloom version of homeless people”. The tours are intended to give homeless people a little more “ownership” of their lives, she says.

“It’s the most logical thing. [The homeless guides] know their streets and they’re great communicators,” she says.

The guides work for themselves, keeping the majority of the £5 per person cost of the tour with some cash being reinvested in the enterprise. They have proved their commitment to Unseen Tours, having been trained by Sock Mob volunteers for three months.

The training is a mutual pact and goes beyond learning the script, says Mavra. “It’s about having food with them so they can talk about what’s bothering them, it’s about the relationship,” she explains. “We rely on the homeless people to give us their labour but they rely on us to train them.”

The plan, after a series of walks this winter, is to make the pilot “a replicable model in other cities”, she says.

All four of the Unseen Tours’ guides spend their time between being street homeless, sofa surfing or staying in hostels. Although Wilding recently got a flat she has yet to move in.

Social impact

Askeland, who has been sleeping on sofas and on the streets for 10 years following a divorce from the father of her two children, says the social impact that her tours will have on the public is important. “I hope they get more understanding of London,” she says. “It’s got such a rich history and I found it interesting to research the background.”

Askeland also hopes that the people who attend the tours might “get a bit more understanding about what it’s like to be on the streets”. As she says: “I met a lady on the streets behind the Savoy who had been a headteacher. You can become homeless in any walk of life.”


How to Become Santa in Moscow

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010


Make This World a Better Place to Leave

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Homeless man uses Facebook, social media to advocate for homeless

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

By Nathan Rott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 12:57 AM

Eric Sheptock has 4,548 Facebook friends, 839 Twitter followers, two blogs and an e-mail account with 1,600 unread messages.

What he doesn’t have is a place to live.

“I am a homeless homeless advocate,” he often tells people. That’s the line that hooks them, the one that gives Sheptock -- an unemployed former crack addict who hasn’t had a permanent address in 15 years -- his clout on the issue of homelessness.

His Facebook friends and Twitter followers include policymakers, advocates for the homeless and hundreds of college students who have heard him speak on behalf of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Being homeless has become Sheptock’s full-time occupation. It’s work that has provided him with purpose and a sense of community. But it’s also work that has perpetuated his homelessness and, in a way, glorified it.

Sheptock, 41, wouldn’t take a 9-to-5 job that compromised his advocacy efforts or the long hours he spends tending to his digital empire, he says. He wouldn’t move out of the downtown D.C. shelter where he has slept for the past two years if it would make him a less effective voice for change.

“Too many homeless people have come to look up to me, and I can’t just walk away from them,” he says in a recent blog post titled “Tough Choices.” “My conscience won’t allow it.”

Having 5,000 friends on Facebook is more important to Sheptock than having $5,000 in the bank. And he lives with the consequences of that every day.

‘Lots of drama’

At 6 a.m., the lights flicker on at the Community for Creative Non-Violence, where Sheptock has occupied the same top bunk since he arrived at the 1,350-bed shelter in 2008.

Eleven other men share a 15-foot-by-18-foot room on a floor that teems with more than 200 people on a typical night. There’s not much privacy, Sheptock says. Younger people tend to be loud, older people cranky, and there’s drama. “Lots of drama,” he says.

That’s why, on most days, Sheptock takes a shower as soon as he wakes and then walks the four miles from the shelter near Judiciary Square to Thrive DC, a nonprofit organization in Mount Pleasant where he gets a free breakfast and Internet access. On the days he can afford it, he’ll take the bus.

His income varies. November was a good month: He made $330 from his blog posts ($25 a pop at and his speeches ($40 for those he gives in the Washington region and $100 for those farther away).

Read the full article on Washington Post website

Two Shelters and 30 Thousand Homeless

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010


Winter. Basement

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Street Medicine: Making House Calls to The Homeless

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Pittsburgh Doctor Spends More Than a Decade Bringing Relief to Homeless

Under bridges, in alley ways, and on the streets of Pittsburgh, a team of doctors deliver house calls to those with no home.

Almost every night, Dr. Jim Withers, an internist and teaching physician at Mercy Hospital, can be found asking homeless men and women to read their blood pressure and offering to treat many illnesses that may have otherwise been overlooked.

“I think what it boils down to is that we’re in this together,” Withers said. “We are committed to each other in a way that hopefully nobody is ever completely outside the circle of caring.”

He calls his mission Operation Safety Net (OSN) — a nonprofit organization of doctors, nurses, and other medical experts who assemble in teams of three or four each night to offer food, clothing, and medical supplies to the city’s homeless.

Among Withers’ patients is Mark, 43, who has been homeless for a decade. He lives beside the train tracks under the Birmingham Bridge and suffers from bipolar disorder, arthritis, and diabetes. He’s been drinking most nights since he was 13 years old, and admitted to Withers that he has neglected taking his medications.

“Well I haven’t been taking my insulin and I haven’t taken my inhaler,” Mark said to Withers.

But Withers does not give up.

“I’m going to start you back on your insulin on a lower dose to be safe,” Withers said. “We’ll figure it out together.”

Withers Finds his Inspiration

As a teenager, Withers traveled with his father, a doctor, and his mother, a nurse, on medical missionaries across Central America. These missions paved Wither’s path early, he said.

Nearly 20 years ago, Withers dressed like his homeless patients and took to the streets, even though he said he did not think he would be welcome. Although he was held at gunpoint three times, he continued to practice his so-called street medicine.

“I just felt like this was worth dying for,” said Withers.

Today, most of the homeless community knows Withers. OSN operates under the umbrella of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, where Withers is a faculty member. Based on an cost-saving analysis done by OSN, Withers estimates that OSN has saved the state about $240,000 in emergency room costs by offering preventative services to the uninsured and homeless.

“The actual savings are undoubtedly higher when one considers the probably decreased re-admission rates avoided through street follow-up, the decreased length of stay related to our consult service and improved discharge planning as well as the preventive care and monitoring of the health of those still on the streets,” Withers said.

Besides offering medical attention, Withers has helped more than 400 people get back on their feet and off the streets.

Lois, 60, is one example of Withers’ success stories. Lois, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, lived behind a garage near Withers’ office.

“I had milk crates I used to sit on in the daytime,” she said.

With the help of federal funding provided to OSN, Lois was able to move from the back of a garage to a furnished apartment.

Lois’ story is one of the many reasons Withers says he continues his mission to save people’s health and well-being.

“There’s something about seeing someone come from a snow bank,” Withers said. “I won’t give up no matter what, to let her know that she mattered, that we were going to be there for her.”

Read full article here

Exhibition of Homeless Artists opens in S-Petersburg

Friday, December 3rd, 2010


(Russian) Доктор Лиза – Морозы. Нам нужна ваша помощь.

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010