Ireland, sustainable travel

How Travelers Can Discover Ireland While Helping the Homeless

For travelers who are interested in an authentic, immersive experience of Ireland, while also giving back to the local community, look no further than one of Visit.org‘s newest partner orgnanizations, My Streets Ireland. My Streets Homeless Walking Tours is a social enterprise that empowers people who have experienced homelessness to become tour guides of “their” streets. Revenue from each tour is invested in the sustainable livelihood of those overcoming homelessness.

We caught up with Austin Campbell, the director of My Streets Homeless Walking Tours to learn more about the organization, their impact, and how travelers can contribute to their cause.

How was My Streets Homeless Walking Tours started?

My Streets Homeless Walking Tours CLG was created out of frustration at the lack of accessible education and employment opportunities open to individuals affected by homelessness in Ireland. The social enterprise was established as a collaborative project between an independent homeless organisation, Drogheda Homeless Aid, and a voluntary local group focused on promoting local culture and heritage, Drogheda Civic Trust in 2014. Early positive outcomes for the project participants and demand for the unique output — highly personalised tours delivered by individuals affected by homelessness — ensured that the social enterprise was established as an independent company in its own right in 2017 and has been going from strength to strength ever since.

What is your vision for your community, and how does your org plan to contribute to that vision?

My Streets’ vision for community is:

  1. A place that maintains, promotes and has a knowledge of its heritage. My Streets is a flower that grows best in areas rich in character and soul.
  2. A place in which development and concepts of progress incorporate the interests of the entire community while also being sympathetic of an area’s natural environment.
  3. A place that provides living wage jobs.
  4. A place where football supporters support their local team!
  5. A place where people talk to, and support, their neighbours.
  6. A place where accessible education and employment opportunities are available.
  7. A place with an active civic life full of volunteer-led organisations.

My Streets contributes to this vision by providing accessible education and employment opportunities to individuals often on the periphery of the community. In doing so the social enterprise provides a platform for individuals affected by homelessness to become spokespersons for the entire town, and allows engagement with various volunteer-led organisations. It also presents the area it operates in as an innovative, inclusive place to potential customers on booking systems, such as Visit.org, attracting sustainable tourists to contribute to the local economy and keep the ball of sustainability rolling!

How does sustainable tourism help your org’s mission?

Sustainability, in particular social sustainability, is at the heart of the My Streets mission. Sustainable, responsible tourism is a means of ensuring the ongoing financial viability of My Streets’ mission as well as ensuring that the narrative continues to find a receptive audience. That said, the ultimate aim of My Streets is not to be a vendor of poverty tourism but to reach a mass audience with its inclusive, empowering narrative in a bid to have positive influence on policy around housing and homelessness.

Do you see any changes in the mindset of your visitors after a tour?

Yes; many tourists enquire about volunteering opportunities within local homeless agencies and book homeless speakers for their organisations following tours. There have also been cases of local employers offering My Streets tour guides employment after completing a tour!

What has been the most hard-fought achievement of your org so far?

The most hard fought achievement of My Streets to date has been proving itself to individuals affected by homelessness that it is a legitimate opportunity to further their interests. There can be a general fatigue and suspicion engendered by education and employment opportunities felt by individuals affected by homelessness. This is because of the feeling that such courses are used as means for the government to doctor statistics, that the courses offered are completely alien to the potential participants learning needs and that non-attendance can negatively affect welfare payments. It takes time and effort to overcome these views!

What else would you like to share about your org to our audience?

My Streets is a platform that educates and provides employment to individuals affected by homelessness to become top quality walking tour guides of “their” streets. It also offers further employment and education opportunities with affiliate organisations and programme sponsors and has enabled over 50% of individuals who have engaged with our training programme go on to secure alternative education or employment. Additionally, My Streets provides people who have experienced homelessness with the ability to control their own narrative, to move beyond the traditional link between homelessness and hopelessness and have a positive effect on housing and homeless policy in the future.