Seattle tour offers life as a homeless person, for $2,000

Seattle tour offers life as a homeless person, for $2,000
To understand homelessness, you could work at a social service agency. Or volunteer. Or read.

Or, if you believe a website called “Real View Tours,” you can also pay $2,000 to live undercover as a homeless person in Seattle with a tour guide for three days.

“You will gain a new respect for the folks that find themselves in this predicament,” Real View Tours says of its “Course in Applied Homelessness.”

“You will see the seedier side of Seattle in a new light and have an experience that you will never forget. Embrace the Experience!”

Joke? Prank? Tactless exploitation?

Run by a guy named Mike Momany, the site – up for only a few weeks – has gotten considerable heat from critics calling it exploitative “poverty tourism.”

“Tacky as hell,” wrote one woman on the tour’s Facebook page. “Homeless people are not exhibits.” Another woman suggested using the Real Change speaker program instead. Some people wondered if the tour was a joke.

Momany, 62, said it’s not.

He said he’s been homeless for the last two months, staying in a cheap International District hostel at night and using the Central Library as his “office” by day. His situation came after years of freelancing as a computer programmer, he said, living in an RV, and going through personal struggles he didn’t want publicly described.

He figured he’d be a good guide for others seeking insight. “It’s to bring an experience to people they can’t get very easily,” Momany said Thursday, during a break from his computer time at the Central Library. “It’s really not to make money,” he said, though he liked the idea of income. He considered his tour “educational.”

First step of the ‘reality tour:’ Become an ‘anonymous homeless person’

For $2,000, Momany says he will first transform a customer’s “look and persona into an anonymous homeless person.” Then he’ll take his customer to “favored homeless spots” in Pioneer Square and downtown, before checking into the hostel he stays in. The tour lasts three days.

“You might have enough chutzpah to try your hand at panhandling or sleeping on a park bench on this leg,” Momany’s site says. “You’ll get a real perspective on how the public perceives the homeless.”

(Women, sorry, you can’t partake. This tour, due to the hostel’s rules, is for men only).

The reason to charge $2,000

Momany said the steep price will attract people “who really want to understand,” and that he’ll donate some of the money to agencies he visits during the tour.

He said many of his critics’ barbs were aimed at his business’ first, brief website, which had called the tour an “adventure” (instead of the tamer “experience”). It also had the pulpy URL of underbelly.desertinment.com. He then toned things down.

Any takers?

As of Thursday morning, Momany had not booked any customers, but said he had gotten seven requests to chat, many from reporters.

He called himself an “entrepreneur” who had gone to Evergreen State College decades ago, moved to Hollywood and lived nomadically up and down the West Coast. His last big idea was starting Washington state’s “first marijuana tourism business.”

And how is that idea going? “It’s on hold,” he said.