Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A Course in Applied Homelessness

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it must feel like to live on the streets, help is at hand.

Mike Momany, a 62-year-old freelance computer programmer living in Seattle, USA, has launched his “Course in Applied Homelessness,” to enable people to truly empathise with the homeless.

On the face of it, it seems like a noble venture, capable of teaching people to be more sensitive to the plight of those who are deprived of one of the basic necessities of life. But Momany, it appears, has another agenda.

He is charging a whopping $2000 for what he describes as the “sub-URBAN experience,” the opportunity to spend three nights as a homeless person. Those interested will be interviewed to make sure that they understand exactly what they are signing up for, and also to ensure what Momany refers to as “compatibility.”

In order to fully comprehend the abject reality of homelessness, Momany will at first strip you of your identity, to enforce the sense of soulless and vapid existence that often characterizes their situation, in a world where the homeless are seen as no better than criminals. He will also give you a disguise to prevent you from being recognized. Men who enroll will get a nickname and a simple life script to help them to more easily inculturate themselves as the homeless. Women cannot avail of this experience as shelters are strictly divided by gender.

His website, Real View Tours, declares, "You will see the seedier side of Seattle in a new light and have an experience that you will never forget.” Momany has spent 44 years in Seattle, only two months of which have been spent on the street, ostensibly to gather material for this course.

The itinerary has been indicated on the website. The first night will be spent visiting the “favoured homeless spots” before retiring for the night in a homeless shelter. On the second day, he suggests trying “panhandling or sleeping on a park bench” to get a real feel of how people view the homeless. Free meals are also a part of the offering. The experience closes with cocktails to chat about one’s own interpretation of what one has gone through.

Expectedly, there are no takers for the course, but Momany’s course has piqued a lot of interest, a lot of it critical. His tour’s Facebook page has disabled negative comments. Only one negative comment, the least accusatory, has been retained. Melody Burson has commented, “This is horrible. It is one thing to bring attention and awareness of the homeless situation in our community, but to charge $2,000 AND take away a bed from someone who has no other choice? Repugnant. I also can't find where you are licensed to do business in the State of Washington." The less polite criticisms accused Momany of exploiting the homeless and treating them like exhibits.

Responding to her, Momany has stated that he will give a 25% discount to churches and social service professionals and that he will donate to the services that are visited as part of the experience.

I personally think that it never hurts to see a situation from another person’s perspective. There is enormous merit in the idea from a life skills point of view. Seeing how the homeless live can be a lesson in gratitude and sensitivity. We might also feed a sense of grudging admiration for the sheer forcefulness and determination with which the homeless struggle to live.

Whether our own homes are spacious mansions or tiny little spaces that end before they begin, at least we have a space of our own, with a roof and four walls that can keep the rest of the world out.

Momany’s idea is not a bad one. It is the execution of that idea that reeks of tackiness and insensitivity. Even as he protests that he is trying to be a voice for the homeless, he is showing that he is nothing but an entrepreneur who is trying to make money out of others’ misery.

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)


  1. It's sad and repugnant how such kind of entrepreneurs are making money in such an ethical manner. Now, they are claiming streets. What a shame! And, they have the nerves to say that they don't exploit the poor and homeless.

  2. This guy seems like those 'charitable organisations' that use most of their funds to pay for their 'overheads' and spend only whatever little that's remaining on the stated beneficiaries!



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