Some are activists for the homeless, trying to gain information and experience to help them with their advocacy. But some are (we're told) "Zen practitioners" who "organize meditative 'street retreats'":
Critics might object that “this is a kind of voyeurism or spiritual tourism,” said Sensei Joshin Byrnes, who lives in a New Mexico monastery. But the goal is in fact “to really change our own hearts and minds and the way we view people who we commonly think of as the other.”I have 5 things to say about this:
Participants in his programs, the shortest of which last four days, are asked not to shower for a week beforehand and arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs, $1, a form of ID, and perhaps a blanket or trash bag for protection from the weather.
1. Should a city be able to criminalize "unauthorized camping"? If you think the answer is yes, would you make an exception for people who have nowhere to go?
2. People living on the streets impose burdens on the people who are managing to take care of themselves by maintaining housing. If you do have a house, you shouldn't choose to add to that burden. It's not a nice thing to do to the people who own or rent housing in the area, and it's making the truly homeless people seem more burdensome than they actually are.
3. The fact that you are concerned with the condition of your own heart and mind does not absolve you of the charge of "voyeurism and spiritual tourism." Thinking well of your own good intentions and religionish loftiness can make you even less sensitive than most people are to the impression they make on others. You can absorb yourself with the way you "view people who [you] commonly think of as the other" and lose track of how other people view you.
4. When is it okay for people to pose as something they are not? Isn't dressing up as a homeless person and acting like them — when you could go home and take a shower and sleep in a bed — a kind of disreputable fakery? Isn't it like Rachel Dolezal taking on the appearance of a black person — not for mockery but out of empathy and concern for people who didn't choose this status? If it is, which way does that cut — pro- or anti- Dolezal?
5. Your imposition of yourself in an environment that is not your own changes that environment. This is a problem I have with travel that is aimed at seeing what people are like in some exotic place. You don't belong there, so it's different once it has you in it. Do you think you are improving it? Do you want to look at the impression you are making on this culture you are curious about?