Today we had presentations and discussed about conceptions and reasons of poverty, about social welfare in the job market and about other services to the poor in the US and in Switzerland. In the afternoon we took a guided tour of the city with a man named Hanspeter, who works for an organization called Surprise. Surprise is an organization that writes and sells a street paper and works with homeless folks to get them reintegrated into society. Hanspeter lost his home and his job in Information Technology due to a drinking problem. He has worked with the organization for two years now, and has been able to turn his life around. He has a room of his own, and has given upwards of four hundred tours.
The city tour was particularly interesting because the tour guides each give their
individual spin on the city, based on their personal experiences there. Hanspeter also has a lot of knowledge about the history and politics of the area.
We began the tour in a park, which is where many people sleep in the winter. They also
drink and consume drugs there. This is tolerated by the police when no children are around. During the summer it is not acceptable.
We heard a lot about the evolution of drug addiction and treatment services. We learned that there is a hospital that specifically cares for pregnant addicts. This came about as a response to a case in which a woman gave birth unexpectedly, and not knowing what to do, panicked and threw the baby out the window. We saw vending machines on the street that contain condoms and what is called a “flash box.” A flash box contains clean syringes, sterile water, and alcohol wipes. We learned that when the drug scene was at its worst, city workers were being injured by used needles. This was a very serious concern, due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As a response, the city installed compartments in the restrooms, specifically to dispose of used needles.
We learned that an area army bunker became the site of the first homeless shelter in
Zurich, during the very cold winter of 1963. Following this, more attention was given to this problem. We also saw a church, which we were told at one time was a safe haven for folks in potential legal trouble. There was an agreement that the police would police would not pursue them there.
At the end of the tour, we went back to the local Surprise office and met the social
worker who oversees the guides. She shared with us how rewarding she finds her job, despite its challenges. She said that while the clients can be unpredictable, especially those who are drug addicts, there has never been a day that no one has showed up to give the tour. They find purpose in their work, and are very excited to be participating.