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Zagreb's homeless tour guides reveal an overlooked side to Croatia


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Homeless tour guides are shedding new light on the Croatian capital, Zagreb, within which a large percentage of Croatia’s homeless population resides.

Invisible Zagreb, dubbed as the “anti-tour” of Croatia’s capital city, was created by humanitarian workers Mile Mrvalj and Branimir Radaković with the aim of bringing the stories and struggles of Zagreb's homeless population to light. 

Credit: Qaalvin on Wikimedia Commons

According to estimated data from the Croatian Network for the Homeless and NGO MoSt, approximately 300 people sleep rough in Croatia, with a further 217 living in temporary accommodation, 124 people living in overnight shelters, and approximately 350 people living in temporary, non-standard structures. The data also reveals that there are only 22 services such as homeless shelters and supported accommodation in the Republic of Croatia.

With strict vagrancy laws and no government strategy to tackle homelessness, the number of homeless people in Croatia is increasing steadily.

Naturally, people experiencing homelessness congregate in public areas such as the central railway station, parks, and kitchens in the city centre of Zagreb.

The tour maps out homeless life in the city, shedding light on places often overlooked by the public. Beginning at Tomislav Park, the tour shows guests the contrast between the two sides of the Zagreb through the eyes of the homeless.

The tour guide is Mrvalj himself, founder of the company along with Branimir Radaković from local social impact agency Brodoto. Mrvalj, who was homeless for three-and-a-half years as a result of accumulating debt, now guest lectures at the University of Zagreb, where Radaković discovered his story. Together, they came up with the vision for the Invisible Zagreb tour which, despite still being in its early stages, has already received positive reviews from tourists and locals in the city.

Speaking to Lonely Planet, Radaković says: “People first see beautiful grass, fountains, benches and usually see [the park] as a place to rest, chill, have fun. For the homeless, it is completely the opposite. They cannot lay down because police will drag them away."

He continues, "It’s a similar story with the railway station. People come and go, look at the screens for train information. For the homeless, it is a crucial place where they can heat up for a bit during winters (before they get kicked out) and where they can buy a cup of coffee/tea from the machines as they’re often not allowed into cafes, restaurants and bars."

Radaković explains that the tour name Invisible Zagreb is inspired by the purpose of the tour, to illuminate aspects of the city which are normally invisible to people but nevertheless exist.

The Invisible Zagreb tour is non-profit and therefore free, although they welcome donations which go directly towards helping the homeless people in Zagreb. 

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