It's a sunny afternoon in October, and I'm on a walking tour of London Bridge. The group listens attentively to our guide Hazel Wilding, who has a particular affinity with these streets: until recently, she was living on them.
Wilding is one of five formerly homeless guides working for Unseen Tours and giving visitors to the U.K. capital insights into an often invisible world. A veteran of three years on the streets, she stresses the sheer physical danger that the homeless face. Pointing out the CCTV cameras at Borough Market, she says their presence made her feel relatively safe but adds that threats are everywhere. She recalls the case of two men set on fire by a gang while sleeping rough in Tooley Street, where our tour starts. Local residents chased the attackers off but not before the men had been injured so badly that they had to spend months in a hospital burns unit.
Each 75-minute walk follows one of three routes Old Street ("migrant cultures, hope and endless resilience"), London Bridge ("mysterious alleys that also contain powerful symbols of the outcast") and Temple (an area that shares "a common history with the homeless") before ending in a local pub. Places cost either $8 or $13 depending on your ability to pay, and true to the enterprise's philanthropic spirit, two places on each walk are reserved for those who can't afford to pay anything. See sockmobevents.org.uk for more