Would You Pay $2,000 to Take a “Homeless Tour”?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 11 comments

Michael Momany, a homeless Seattle man, recently announced his idea to start “homeless tours” that would give people a three-day experience of living like a homeless person. The cost for such a tour? Two thousand dollars.

What’s more, $1,500 of this fee would be Momany’s personal earnings, while only $500 would go towards homeless shelters in the Seattle area. To most people, this seems outrageous, almost a con. But the truth is that he’s already received feedback from people who are interested.

Though it may sound like Momany is driven only by greed, it is accompanied by good intentions. His concept was designed to raise the public’s awareness of what life is really like for homeless people, and thereby increase support for the homeless shelters and nonprofit organizations that help them.

The Issues Behind Homeless Tours

What most of us, including other homeless charities, would ask Momany is why he is charging and pocketing so much. If he truly wants to help the homeless, why doesn’t he donate the money directly to them? It’s possible that he seems himself as a homeless “expert,” and is therefore deserving of the income due any professional. It’s also possible that he just wants to make a decent living and not be homeless anymore.

After all, wouldn’t the tours be accomplishing their goal immediately by providing him, a homeless person, an income and place to live?

Another observation from this news is the disturbing readiness of some people to view homeless people as a tourist attraction, as if they were some strange cult. Homelessness is a painful and undesirable reality for some people, and while awareness is important, using an expensive tour to raise it is arguably an exploitation.

How You Can Help the Homeless

Of course, there are other less lucrative ways to raise awareness of homelessness, a problem that’s increasing in many cities as those below the poverty level struggle to find decent-paying jobs and affordable housing. There’s no law against finding a homeless person near you and engaging with them about the realities of life on the streets. But, this would make many uncomfortable. If you’re not ready for that, what about volunteering your time at a homeless shelter?

Another organization, the National Coalition for the Homeless, offers a donation-based 48-hour homeless experience. All of the recommended $50 nightly donation goes to homeless shelters. This tour, while far less expensive, still accomplishes the goal of raising awareness and support.

The problem of homelessness is a complex one, and its proposed solutions are very different depending on your political, religious, or economic views. Whatever your standpoint, it’s fairly safe to say there will always be homeless people.

Helping those we come in contact with — not just temporarily, but for the long run — is a challenge each of us is capable of. You may think you don’t know anyone who is or has been homeless, but you probably do. Homelessness is a condition many people are too mortified to admit, so they’ll live in their vehicle or do whatever it takes to maintain the illusion that everything’s okay. Stay aware of signs of homelessness and be willing to approach someone you can help.

In the case of Michael Momany’s homeless tours, at least he’s doing something that, in theory, will help the homeless. Though his method and motive may be questionable, he’s doing more than many of us ever have to help homeless people.

Sometimes the hypocrisy of those in the spotlight is a humbling opportunity to reflect the mirror back at ourselves.

So what about you? Would you take a $2,000 homeless tour? Would you take one for free?

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  • Karik says:

    I would never pay anyone for a homeless tour. Especially since I Was homeless decades ago and it isn’t one of my life experiences that I would care to share with anyone. There are a lot of reasons why people are homeless . Mine was poverty. This homeless man cannot be right in the head and I think it’s terrible that he’s doing social panhandling (formerly known as begging) possibly to fuel his own addictions. I will and do on a regular basis buy a homeless person a meal, give warm items to a homeless shelter and food to the soup kitchen and local food bank. I think that’s a lot more beneficial towards homeless people and you know where your small contribution is going. Bear in mind that being homeless is a dangerous proposition as it is. You give this guy some money and his buddies find out and one of them needs a fix…that’s a dangerous combination. I Have had the misfortune to see someone lose their life over a few dollars as well as lost life over the elements. This isn’t an extreme adventure that you would be going on. I can see for FREE any time of the day or night homeless people in my community and if I travel to the city, even more “camps.” And the local homeless shelter would be more than happy to give you a “tour” for a small contribution of food or money that goes directly towards helping the homeless. The $2000 that you would give to this guy, would do a lot more good if you gave it to the shelters.

  • Alex says:

    I’m not sure this would work here in Britain. Not too many people would be willing to dish out thousands if 75% of the cost is going to one individual benefactor. We tend go against disproportionate wealth, though this circumstance is very much different to something like an upper-middle class politician/business man evading tax. This is for someone who knows the pains of true poverty.

    The reality is Momany relying on this as his only income, I’m led to presume, and by putting the price up significantly he’s decreasing most demand but hoping enough people sign up to make the venture worth while. If he gets 10 people to pay up he earns $15000, which is a lot of money and certainly enough to prevent him going back to homelessness for a while. I suppose he’s trying to build a future for himself.

    As for the service provided, if you can call it that, it does seem strange to me that people would need to experience it to understand it. Yes the true horror of homelessness may become more evident, more lifelike, but then that participants personal account doesn’t transfer to others as they haven’t experienced it themselves.

    Unless everyone gets involved the message could get lost in translation, or ‘die on the vine’. You could also argue that the participant, who has dished out $2,000, are obviously of some minor or significant wealth and therefor able to return to the comfort of a furnished and heated home after the three days. The question remains, how does it truly sink in as an experience?

    Still, credit is due for trying something new. I think we’d all like to charge massive amounts for our knowledge and skills.

  • fredjohnson says:

    Seems ok what he’s doing. No one is forcing you to take a tour and the guy has a profit margin built in. That being said, I spent the first 18 years of my life on welfare, food stamps and in poverty. I don’t need a tour of it all over again, that’s for sure.

  • Jj says:

    Does anyone really need a tour to know how awful living without a secure place to sleep at night is?

    How many actually will live in a shelter, or accept help, if that help requires them to lay off drugs and booze?

    Contribute to a homeless shelter regularly, because they provide a path to independence, that includes a religious commitment and a commitment to lay off the drugs.

  • LateBoomer1 says:

    Heck, life gave him lemons, so he’s making lemonade! What’s wrong with that? Let the people decide the fate of his idea. This is America, last I heard…

  • Peter says:

    This guy is awesome. With that kind of entrepreneurship, how is this guy a homeless in the first place. You would think a homeless person would offer something more affordable, I like him… he’s thinking big.

  • Matt B. says:

    People are enraged by the fact that he is pocketing a great amount of money when he himself is doing everything he can by helping the homeless and also himself. Nobody even bothered about it, but now everybody is bothered because someone is making something actually happen? Let’s just support them because there are people really willing to pay much for this tour. Like Levi said on top, if his intentions are really just to HELP, then he wouldn’t have to charge anything for it.

  • He can’t donate too much of the profit to the homeless because that would ruin his business. If he helped all the homeless people he wouldn’t have a tour to charge for in the first place.

  • Hey, it’s just capitalism! I was at lunch one day this week and there was a man with a sign asking for money in a parking lot. It’s not unusual to see this but he had his wife and teenage children with him. It was really tough for me to see this in an area of such affluence. He was truly grateful for any contributions provided. I believe his family was in need (you just never know these days).

  • I agree with Kyle. Although it does seem a bit ridiculous at face value, nobody is making anyone go on the tours, so if there are people who getting their money’s worth, what makes it wrong?

  • Kyle B. says:

    I don’t understand why people are getting upset over how much money he is pocketing. It would be one thing if some affluent individuals were taking advantage of homelessness in order to make a quick buck. However it seems that the only “greed” driving this man is a desire to get off the streets. I say if he can find people actually willing to pay for this, more power to him.

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