A little rough sleeping before dinner

    Yvonne Roberts says a course designed for executives to
    experience sleeping rough is a new cultural low.

    We now have reproductive tourists who trawl the world in search
    of potential womb carriers and orphans to adopt, and we’re already
    familiar with the big earning thrill-seekers who spend a fortune to
    feel their adrenalin pumping by, say, inching along a tightrope
    across a raging torrent when the rest of us would probably rather
    spend our annual holidays at rest on a beach – preferably not in
    the pouring rain. But now an Amsterdam company has come up with yet
    another twist for the jaded vacationer who believes he or she has
    seen and done it all.

    On offer is a four-night package, a bargain (at least for the
    travel company) at a thousand pounds. This comprises three nights
    on the streets with the homeless (dress: understated; regretfully,
    special diets cannot be catered for) followed by a visit to a
    five-star hotel and some sumptuous cuisine. Yes, you too can now be
    a down and out dilettante.

    Of course, in the British context, there are continents of
    social deprivation to explore. Why stop at the homeless? Why not a
    long weekend with a child on her third move in care? Or an
    overnight in a residential home for the elderly mentally ill (no
    extra charge for a taste of the chemical cosh). Or, for
    “travellers” who really likes to live on the edge, why not seven
    days surviving on £100 (no foreign currency please) with a
    couple of distressed under fives on a sink estate?

    The poor and vulnerable and over-burdened are, of course,
    accustomed to visitors from another planet. At times, it has proved
    a worthwhile exercise, changing attitudes and resources. For
    instance, Henry Mayhew in London in the 19th century and George
    Orwell en route to Wigan almost a 100 years later, both illuminated
    via savage prose what had been too easily ignored before.

    More recently, Jane Tewson, co-founder of Charity Projects, the
    force behind the phenomenally successful Red Nose Day, who has now
    moved on to build a new charity in Australia, talked passionately
    of introducing those with influence and power and money to others
    who have nothing but who, with constructive support, can help
    themselves to do so much more. “We’re not giving to people,” she
    would say again and again: “We’re working with them…”

    Transformational tourism is not quite what the Amsterdam venture
    is about – at least not in the way that social policy activists
    have in mind.

    No, the brief foray into the land of the less, according to the
    Amsterdam spokesman, is not intended to increase knowledge;
    expedite change or even encourage empathy.

    These brief visits into the straits of misfortune are designed
    for companies as an alternative to more traditional outward
    bound-type courses. They are to encourage the successful executive
    to re-evaluate his personal survival skills and inject fresh
    appreciation into the joys that a credit card and an expense
    account can bring.

    Nowadays, we stand aghast at stories of how the middle classes
    used to wander through Bedlam, treating the lunatics as spectator
    sport.

    Is this version of the 21st century traveller really any
    better?

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