Mar 15, 2012

How do you feel about the "homeless hotspots" at SXSW?

I've been listening to music from the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Lot's of it for free - thanks Google! I was watching the news last night and there was a panel discussion focused on a project by BBH-Labs that pays homeless people to essentially carry around a MiFi, and for an additional donation, they will stand around while you use his or her hotspot for broadband access. It's a 4G network, incidentally. Apparently this stirred up quite a lot of controversy, and many people were upset over the whole thing. My first reaction is to see this as a mostly positive thing, but maybe I'm in the minority on this. What do most people think about this, is it exploitive or does it extend a helping hand to the homeless?


Well, my office happens to be about a block away from a homeless shelter.  I have a lot of sympathy for most of the homeless, and many people are in a tough situation for reasons that are at least partially beyond their control.  That said, today I've watch a homeless guy urinate on the building across the street, seen three homeless guys get into a very loud verbal confrontation while drinking brown-bag style on the sidewalk, and I just saw a bunch of broken glass from a bottle they smashed after they emptied it.  Do I think it would be better for them to be making money ($20 to wear the hotspot around for the day is what I've read they were paid), and getting paid additional money to stand still while they provide a service?  Absolutely I do.  What are the alternatives? I didn't hear the critics offering any other choices for those folks to earn some money.  I've never been homeless, but I've experienced lean times, and during those times I would have gladly taken $20+ to walk around downtown Austin for the afternoon.  The t-shirts printed with "homeless hotspot" might have been a little weird, but even so I give BBH-Lab's the benefit of the doubt that they printed those to draw attention to the issue of homelessness.    

If it puts some money in their pocket, I'm all for it. It's basically just giving them a job and that's a positive thing. That said, it does seem like a bit of a weird idea. But if it works then I'm fine with it. I'm sure there are some homeless that would appreciate being able to earn money that way, and perhaps it might set some of them on the road to not being homeless any more.
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