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How I survived Bern from a homeless perspective

The Surprise association, which publishes a magazine to help the homeless, is celebrating its 20th year. To mark the event, it has launched “socially aware” tours of the city of Bern, with guides who have personally experienced homelessness. (SRF/

Roger Meier tells his tour groups about his life and provides an insight into the institutions that helped him survive on the streets, visiting soup kitchens, shelters and charity shops. Guided tours of this kind already exist in Zurich, with the goal of fighting against prejudice.

A team from Swiss Public Television, SRF, took a guided tour with Roger, who has been homeless most of his life since running away from an abusive foster father. Thanks to his job as a guide, he now has a roof over his head for the first time. But he says he has never been afraid of the streets, "It's the only place where nothing can happen to me. The only place where I know my way around."

Surprise also recently received a social prize of CHF50,000 ($50,165) from the Bern "Bürgegemeinde" or citizen's community, a public corporation. Each of the NGOs fortnightly magazines costs CHF6, with its team of homeless vendors getting to keep about half of this. It's not only a source of income for poor people - it also has an educative function, with articles that address social issues.

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