Prague's homeless have found a way to profit from the city’s flourishing tourism industry: By offering an alternative to mainstream tour guides. The unorthodox chaperones show visitors another side to the city, from the people who know it best.
The forays into Prague’s gritty underbelly offer visitors a glimpse at places inhabited by the city’s poor and homeless.
"The guide has opened quite a different view of Prague for me," Tobias, a German sightseer who participated in the tour said. The experience had “opened the world of the homeless to him,” he said.
The initiative, dubbed 'Pragulic,' targets both Czech and foreign tourists. There are currently ten such tours being offered, focusing on both the city's downtown and outskirts.
“No one knows the streets like a homeless person does,” Pragulic founder Katarina Chalupkova told Czech publication The Prague Post. She claimed that the homeless-led tours were first devised by the guides themselves.
The tours cost around 200 Czech crowns ($10), half of which goes to the guide. Jan Badalec, a recovering alcoholic and one of the eight guides working for Pragulic, said that the initiative offered him the opportunity to improve his life.
“I’m trying to make the most of what life dealt me, and with the help of God, I am,” Badalec said.
Pragulic's three founders– Tereza Jureckova, Katarina Chalupkova and Ondrj Klugl – say that the project will "contribute to the improvement of the situation" for the homeless, and will help combat negative stereotypes.
Prague has a population of 1.2 million people, some 4000 of whom are estimated to be homeless and are often “quite happily” ignored by the rest of the city. “Many people really criticize the homeless, they throw them all into the same bag, and that’s just not right,” Pragulic's founders said.
Pragulic is not the first enterprise of its kind in Europe: For a number of years, London’s 'Sock Mob' offered tours led by homeless or formerly homeless people, claiming they offered a window into “unseen London.”