October 9, 2013 10:55 am
Updated: October 10, 2013 5:57 am

Barcelona set to officially launch tour guides led by city’s homeless

Juan Carlos (C), 45, long-term unemployee and homeless Lisa Grace (L), founder of 'Hidden City Tours' lead a group of Danish tourist on October 7, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain. Lisa Grace, a British entrepreneur, has launched 'Hidden City Tours', a service offering visitors an alternative view of Barcelona guided by homeless people.

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TORONTO – A tour guide program that is led by the city’s homeless is set to officially launch in Barcelona on Friday.

Hidden City Tours asks “who better to show you around the streets of Barcelona than someone who has lived on those very streets?”

Similar projects already exist in the UK in London and Bath, a city in Southwest England.

According to 2011 statistics, Barcelona has roughly 3,000 homeless people, with 870 people estimated to be sleeping on the streets while 2,000 reside in temporary accommodation.

Juan Carlos (2ndL), 45, long-term unemployee and homeless, leads a group of Danish tourist on October 7, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain. While the Hidden City Tours program is set to officially launch in Barcelona on Friday, preview tours were conducted last week.

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“The tour currently has a mix of history and social linking the past to the present wherever possible and discussing social issues,” founder Lisa Grace told Global News. “Although I must point out that the tour is a serious and historic tour—and not a tour of misery and poverty.”

After losing her job last year as a market research consultant, Grace approached a Barcelona homeless charity for possible candidates to work as tour guides.

“When you lose your job you realize just how vulnerable you are,” Grace said. “I was lucky to have family support but for those who don’t, ending up sleeping on the streets is a scarily close reality.”

Tour guides are selected by the charity and then trained by Hidden City Tours.

Groups are small and intimate, allowing tourists to connect with their guides.

To date, Hidden City Tours employs two guides, Juan Carlos González and another guide, Fernando, who Grace says is currently in training to run the tours directly in English.

According to the guide website, González ended up living on the city’s streets when he lost his job over 15 years ago and currently lives in temporary accommodation provided by a local homeless charity.

Juan Carlos, 45, long-term unemployee and homeless, revises his notes in the room of the shelter where he is living since April before a city tour on October 7, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

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González, 45, says he hopes that his job as a guide with Hidden City Tours will be a step towards getting back on his feet and living independently.

“When they offered me the tour guide position I jumped at the chance to get involved in something that would help take my mind off my problems,” he said.

Grace says she hopes the tours will allow visitors to scratch the surface when they visit Barcelona, a city that she says both benefits and suffers from tourism globalization.

“Barcelona needs new products to offer tourists that want to see something slightly different,” says Grace. “On a broader scale we want to challenge myths and change attitudes towards homelessness.”

Grace says the guides earn 50 per cent of the net income from each tour.

Set to launch the day after World Homeless Day, tours run for approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes in both English and Spanish. More info can be found here.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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