Mike Momany worked as a contract programmer for years before falling on hard times. Now homeless in Seattle, he has been experimenting with innovative ways to make money ever since.
His main focus at the moment: a “private course in Applied Homelessness,” whereby he offers folks a chance to experience the homeless lifestyle during a three-day tour. Tuition is $2000 of which 25% will be donated back to shelters and pay for expenses, like the purchase of clothes for potential clients.
Although Momany looks at the venture as a business, he’s also hoping to raise awareness of the growing homeless population in Seattle which has increased by 15% since 2007. By offering a real life homeless experience, he’s hoping to inspire new approaches to solving the problem.
According to Momany, students will be dressed in appropriate homeless garb, given new names as well as “a simple life script.” The dense curriculum includes visits to popular homeless hangouts like the Seattle Public Library and students will be given opportunities to converse with other homeless people, pan handle and nap on benches. On one particular night, they will roam the streets at 3 a.m. Each night will be capped off with a stay in a $15-per-night hostel.
Momany’s venture is already stirring up controversy.
MJ Kiser, program director at Compass Housing Alliance in Seattle, said Momany’s tour would use up much-needed resources like housing and food, and that his $2,000 fee “could help a homeless family for two months or provide meals for all  of the folks in Compass shelters one night.”
Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he thinks Momany’s intentions are in the right place, but he doesn’t think it’s right to charge $2,000 or for Momany to pay himself such a big fee. If the experience is really about giving people an inside look at homelessness, then it shouldn’t be about turning a profit, Stoops said.
Stoops says that his nonprofit coalition offers a similar program, called the Homeless Challenge where people can spend 48 hours living on the streets of Washington, D.C., with a guide who is either currently or formerly homeless. The coalition only asks for a $50 nightly donation to local shelters. “It’s not a moneymaker,” Stoops said. “We do it to give [people] the experience and to let them interact with other homeless folks.”
Nobody has signed up for Momany’s course as of yet.
Photo: Mike Momany