Homeless tours in Seattle? Yes, there's a guy named Michael Momany conducting what he calls homeless tours in Seattle. When I first heard about him, I didn't want to demonize him because I wanted to see what his idea of homeless tourism is. However, after being on a Huffington Post Live segment with him I got the impression that Michael's idea of tourism is actually more of a charity unto himself!
Michael's site, Sub Urban Experience, touts a three-day course in "applied homelessness." After looking over his site, my B.S. meter went off! First of all, as a homeless person I can tell you that the only "applied course" in homelessness is actually being homeless, and you don't need to pay $2,000 for the experience! Homelessness is not a tourism event. To frame it as though it were some sanitized version will never ever give a non-homeless person a true picture of the reality of not knowing what will happen to you the next day or if you'll get arrested for being homeless since we have "civility laws" in Seattle to deal with.
A homeless tour will not show you what it's like to jump through seemingly endless bureaucracy to get access to basic health care, food stamps or bleak housing programs that do not help people get out from under the system, nor will it show how it feels after being treated badly by an overworked social worker with a bad attitude. How about not being able to bathe for weeks on end and people walking around you because they don't want to make eye-contact with a visibly homeless person? My other concern is Michael's claims about "checking in" at a homeless shelter in the International District as though it were a hotel. Is Michael's "guest" taking a space in the shelter that a real homeless person should be getting?
Oh, and will the ugly reality of homeless youth trapped into sex trafficking and drug addiction be on Michael's tourism itinerary? How about showing people homeless women and children living out of their cars because they are fleeing domestic violence or the tragedy of homeless senior citizens who don't make enough money to keep a roof over their heads and have no choice but to sleep in the dugouts of baseball parks or under bridges? Not only that, what about showing just how miserable it is in bad weather when downtown shelters are packed with sick homeless people that might be contagious? Taking people to the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Park and the Compass Center under The Viaduct is framing only a few places homeless folks are and is not a true picture of the degrading experience homelessness actually is.
When the host of the segment asked Michael how much money he was giving to charity, Michael was hesitant about an exact figure. When the host pushed for an exact dollar amount, the only answer Michael chose to give was "10 percent," then, "over 10 percent." Then Michael went on to say that he believes that what he's doing will encourage more donors to give money to homeless charities. Apparently Michael is out of touch with reality. A homeless tour will NOT encourage people to give money since all they have to do is go on a free outreach visit with existing homeless service providers or local church groups already doing outreach in Seattle. Ask them how effective a tour is when seeking donations to programs already funded by the government or private funders. If you're not part of big philanthropic entity, your chances of getting donations are slim to none, or what you get will be breadcrumbs!
In my advocacy to help the homeless where I'm at, I have learned that the best way to give people an insight into the miserable injustices of homelessness is by doing it through compassion. You can do that by simply introducing them to real homeless people so they can see the humanity of homeless folks because they are people like everyone else. Michael seems to think he's an entrepreneur but in reality he's an exploit-eur and if Michael manages to get "tourists," then good for him! Like P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute."