Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
One local homeless man wants to show you how the homeless really live in his city. And he insists it isn't exploitative.
For $2,000, you can spend three days and two nights exploring Seattle's homeless culture.
The tour, officially called "Sub-Urban Experience," is the creation of 62-year-old Mike Momany, who says he's been living in Seattle for over 40 years. A self-proclaimed entrepreneur and West Coast nomad, he claims he decided to give homelessness a shot starting last August after Seattle's rising cost of living became more than he could afford.
According to an interview Momany gave to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he says he was previously freelancing as a computer programmer while living in an RV. Now, he thinks he'd be a good guide for anyone looking to have a better perspective on what it's like to be homeless in Seattle, which for Momany consists of occasionally sleeping on the streets and sometimes paying for a spot in a local hostel. But, he confesses, he's had no customers yet.
Anyone interested in his tour would first have to be interviewed by Momany to determine compatibility. If selected, you'd first change your look and persona (presumably to that of a homeless person?) so that no one would recognize you. Then, you'd receive a nickname and a "simple life script."
Here's what the three-day itinerary looks like:
The first day we will start at the Public Market and visit some of its homeless gathering spots. We'll walk down to Pioneer Square, via the waterfront, and visit some favored homeless spots, including the Compass Center; a major resource under the viaduct. We'll wander over to the International District via the Courthouse on 3rd and James.
We'll have to check in at our shelter, in the International District, by 7pm so we'll pick up some fruits and vegetables on the way for dinner.
Out of the shelter by 7am, we'll get some coffee and head up broadway to check out some parks frequented by the homeless. You might have enough chutzpah to try your hand at panhandling or sleeping on a park bench on this leg. You'll get a real perspective on how the public perceives the homeless.
We'll meander on down to the Recovery Cafe where we'll get a nice free lunch and espresso. Here you'll have a chance to sit and converse with fellow homeless folks. It's very nice. It was funded by the Gates Foundation. Then it's off to the beautiful Seattle Public Library. Many homeless people spend their days here.
We stayed at the Moore Hotel so that we could get out and wander the wiley streets at 3am. We'll sleep in a bit and then have a nice breakfast at the Moore Coffee Shop before meandering up through Belltown checking out more homeless haunts along the way as we head towards Queene Anne and the Seattle Center; a favorite hangout for the homeless.
After a pleasant afternoon at the Seattle Center we'll test the dress codes at some of the finer restaurants on Queen Anne and then top it off with a cocktail and conversation at a long time watering hole, a historic working class dive bar the Mecca Cafe.
At this point I hope you've thoroughly enjoyed my Course in Applied Homelessness in Seattle, from the perspective of a homeless person. I hope our exclusive tour will be remembered for ever and you'll have a keener perspective on what it means to be homeless; a place all of us might not be to far from.
For now, only men are eligible (women aren’t allowed in the homeless shelter he is using) but there are discounts available for churches, social services and travel professionals.
Feedback to Momany's business venture has mostly come in the form of outrage, his Facebook page inundated with angry comments like, "this is horrible," and "I'm warning ALL Seattle shelters to be on the lookout for you. Shame on you." But Momany thinks he can actually help customers, according to his site, "gain a new respect for the folks that find themselves in this predicament." As for the high cost for such an excursion, Momany argues it'll better attract those "who really want to understand."
It's possible that Momany is indeed a passionate advocate, but anyone actually concerned with the well-being of Seattle's homeless would no doubt be better off giving $2,000 to organizations that exist to make their lives better.