It's easy to ignore a panhandling bearded homeless man, but it's hard to ignore Robert the Korean War vet.
An entrepreneur in Seattle named Mike has created a new opportunity for people to get an authentic understanding of street life. For $2000, Mike will guide participants through three days and two nights of homelessness to put a human face on the homeless people they regularly ignore. His students will sleep in shelters and eat the free food provided for the needy. Mike describes the "sub-URBAN Experience" as a crash course in applied homelessness that will give participants a new respect for the homeless.
Aside from the ludicrous idea that anyone would pay to be homeless, there are many problems with Mike's "sub-URBAN Experience." The trip takes resources from the truly disadvantaged. It is unclear whether any of the price is used to reimburse the shelter and food banks. But even if everything is paid for, the vacationers are taking up valuable space. There are never enough safe free beds for those who need them. People with means to sleep elsewhere have no right to use these scant resources. Mike is profiteering off of the minimal services available to the homeless.
And the "sub-URBAN Experience" also objectifies and mocks homeless people. The people who live on the street in Seattle are not there by choice. Their circumstances and appearance are the result of necessity. It is cruel to dress up and playact their lives. It stereotypes and mocks the people and the community. To add insult to injury, the guide commodifies the experience by charging people to participate.
It is possible to encourage empathy without abusing the community that needs help. But this certainly isn't it.