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?