‘My homeless hotspot keeps wandering out of range…’
It’s SxSW o’clock in Austin, Texas, and sadly for us we’re back here in the UK manning our desks, slurping tea and having to settle for watching Twitter feeds/websites for breaking news and controversy…
Whilst we’re excited to see and hear about new music what’s really caught our attention, and the rest of the world’s, are these ‘homeless hotspots’.
At first we didn’t really pay the term much attention when it popped up as a trending topic… we’ve made that mistake before; investigating something ‘interesting’ and for it to turn out to be about Justin Beiber. Again.
But then we got our act together and decided to investigate what on earth ‘homeless hotspots’ could possibly be.
‘What are they?’ you ask. Well, homeless hotspots are the brainchild of advertising agency BBH NY. Known for their campaigns for Google and other major brands, BBH NY are collaborating with the homeless of Austin to give them an opportunity to sell a digital service rather than a material commodity (think Big Issue for a digital age).
In other words a dozen of Austin’s homeless have been given a 4G MiFi each and a t-shirt that reads ‘ I’m a homeless hotspot’ to pimp their wares to hipster conference goers in desperate need for wifi access for a small fee.
For a small donation of $2 (be it cash or via paypal) you can get 15mins of wifi and the chance to hang out with a member of the homeless community.
Sounds good, right?
It’s a charitable cause that highlights the plight of Americas homeless with all proceeds going to the individuals. The individuals who’re taking part in the scheme also get paid a daily rate of $50 for their work.
Not only this but the scheme is encouraging us to engage with those living on the streets. After all they’re just like us but something in their lives has unfortunately gone awry, such as Clarence who found himself on the streets after losing his house to Hurricane Katrina.
To be fair ‘homeless hotspots’ aren’t necessarily a way to end homelessness but as some have pointed out it’s better than doing nothing. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of us have been guilty of just walking by a homeless person and ignoring them.
Innovation and new technology is a key focus of SxSW, just look at the success of foursquare and twitter, but this innovative idea has had quite the backlash.
What could possibly cause outrage?
• There have been cries of exploitation: at $2 for 15minutes the hotspots won’t necessarily even get paid the National Minimum wage in America (it’s about $7.95).
• There’s been outrage that the homeless are being treated as mere street furniture, which is similar to what happened in Victorian times, and are being dehumanised.
• And what happens for the rest of the year? Surely the project would only be beneficial and profitable when events and conferences are in town.
It seems like Austin might be the end of the road for ‘homeless hotspots’ but let’s not criticise entirely a charitable project. After all it is drawing attention to a social issue that we should all care about.
But what do you think? Would you use a ‘homeless hotspot’?
To find out more or even make a donation visit Homeless Hotspots