Mike’s Story: From Working in the City to Living on the Streets

by Jasmine Awad

Note to the reader: this story has a happy ending!

Mike is a born and bred Londoner, who grew up in Camden. The area has changed a great deal since those days and he has not only witnessed its evolution over the years, but he has also experienced the changes in his own life. His tour is called ‘Camden Rock and Roll Contrasts’, and you’ll easily understand the emphasis on ‘contrasts’ if you meet him even just once: through the lenses of his exceptionally eventful life, you will be able to perceive and understand the rich-poor contrast that is present in Camden.

Mike Regent's Canal

Mike’s story is the story of many other people, more than you can probably imagine. Back in the days when he was working in the City, who would have ever imagined that he would end up relying on a social enterprise like Unseen Tours? Our exceptional guide had a successful career as a manager in London, a nice flat in Camden, and was happy with the way his life was going. His problems started after the 2008 financial crisis, when he was made redundant and was forced to leave his home. But this is not where his experience as a homeless person began. His plan was to ride out of the crisis by moving to Vietnam and becoming an English teacher, which he did. But two years later, after getting terribly ill, he was forced to leave the country to get medical treatment. He managed to buy a ticket to London by selling the only valuable thing he had left, his watch.

Upon arrival, he found a city that was no longer ready to welcome him. The crisis had left thousands jobless or homeless and Mike was just one of the 30,000 people on the waiting list for social housing. So he had to turn to couch surfing. And no, it wasn’t the kind of couch surfing that some people will have in mind as a way of living cheaply while travelling. It was the last resort for a recovering man who had to rely on his friends and family’s generosity for a place to stay.

‘I was couch surfing at friends’ houses, but you can only take people’s goodwill only so far. Eventually, I had to pack up my things and become homeless’

What took Mike off the street was a local charity in Camden, where volunteers collaborate to provide a dry shelter for destitute people, in seven different churches around the area. His perseverance and good will eventually earned him a referral to obtain council housing. With a roof over his head, and the support from the Baptist Church Food Bank, our amazing guide was finally back on his feet.

“Securing a job at Unseen Tours is one of the best things that could ever happen to me,” says Mike to all of the visitors who go on his tour. “I feel that my quality of life has much improved over the past year. After all, who else can say they live next door to James Bond and with a nice view on Primrose Hill?!” For every tour that Mike leads, he earns 60% of the ticket price, with the rest covering the guides’ expenses and the organisation’s running costs. This regular income allows him to cover bills and basic expenses, and is finally bringing his life back to normality.

Mike street art

As we promised in the beginning, this is a story of redemption. Mike’s experience will definitely help to change your perception of homelessness. But that’s not all. On his tour, you will also learn incredibly curious facts about the canals, the markets, the artists, and the names that have made music history here in Camden since the 1930s.
Find out more about Mike’s story or book a place on his Camden Rock and Roll Contrasts tour to learn more unique and alternative facts about Camden. During September, you can bring a friend for free when you book a standard price ticket for any tour.