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Profits at the expense of the homeless in Seattle

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On Monday, highlighted a scheme a homeless entrepreneur in Seattle, Washington wants to use for a new business, and it's creating a lot of backlash across the country.

Mike Momany, a 63-year-old homeless man, is offering a three-day tour of the homeless culture in the city, calling the experience a "private course in Applied Homelessness." For a sum of $2,000, participants will be immersed in homelessness.

Nights will be spent in $15-a-night rooms in a hostel, in the same building as a real homeless shelter, only one-step up, though. There are visits planned that take in several popular homeless "hangouts," like the Seattle Public Library, as well as arranged talk sessions with groups of homeless people.

There will be opportunities to try panhandling, sleeping on park benches and roaming the streets at 3 am in the early morning hours. The price of the tour will also include the appropriate homeless clothing needed so participants will blend in.

Momany explained that part of the $2,000 cost of the tour, $500, will be donated to homeless shelters and pay for expenses. So far, no one has signed up for a tour yet, but Momany has a couple other ideas up his sleeve, like a tour of some of the local pot-growing enterprises in the area.

Momany insists his only motive for venturing into the tourist business is the burgeoning population of the homeless in the Seattle area. The numbers have shot up 15 percent since 2009, and now Seattle is home to over 9,000 homeless, living in shelters or on the streets.

While admitting he wants to make money, Momany also says he wants to get people thinking about the homeless situation and try coming up with some new ideas in combatting the problem.

Detractors of the scheme say the $2,000 fee for the tour would provide food for over 200 people, or provide for a homeless family for two months. Others think Momany is being too greedy by keeping $1,500 of the fee for himself. The biggest objection is the"showcasing" of the homeless.

"Homeless people are not tourist attractions. They have enough issues without this company profiting off exploiting them as well," one commenter on a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story about the tour recently wrote.

Michael Stoops, with the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he thought Momany's heart was in the right place, but not so at the expense of making a profit off the homeless. "If the experience is really about giving people an inside look at homelessness, then it shouldn't be about turning a profit," Stoops said.



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