Homeless Hotspot at SXSW — stirs debate

Remove signs which offend undergrad sociologists

A charitable marketing program that paid homeless people to carry Wi-Fi signals at South By Southwest has drawn widespread debate at the annual Austin conference and around the country.

BBH Labs, a unit of the global marketing agency BBH, gave 13 people from Austin’s Front Steps Shelter mobile Wi-Fi devices and T-shirts that announced “I am a 4G Hotspot.” The company paid them $20 up front and a minimum of $50 a day for about six hours work, said Emma Cookson, chairwoman of BBH New York.

She called the experiment a modernized version of homeless selling street newspapers. All of the money paid for Wi-Fi – an often difficult thing to find at SXSW – went to the participants, who were selected in partnership with Front Steps. ($2 was the recommended donation for 15 minutes of use.)

But many have called the program exploitive. Wired.com wrote that it “sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.” Technology blog ReadWriteWeb called it a “blunt display of unselfconscious gall.” The topic became one of the most popular in the country on Twitter by Tuesday…

Please, please, save me from middle-class psychologizers who have never spent a penniless day on the streets of their suburbs.

One of the participants, Dusty White said that the experience of talking with SXSW attendees and earning some cash “made me feel proud.”

“I felt like it was a positive thing,” said White. “They could have done this with anyone.”

Mitchell Gibbs, director of development and communications at Front Steps, said he was initially skeptical after being approached by BBH, but was won over by previous work they’ve done with the homeless. He put the offer to participants in the shelter’s Case Management Program, a step-by-step program to move people out of shelters and off the streets.

“Everybody was educated and aware about the process,” said Gibbs. “Everybody was excited by the opportunity to make some money.”

Gibbs said the shelter’s participants roundly enjoyed the experience.

Pompous, guilt-ridden, middle-class twits who complain about patronizing the poor and homeless — usually succeed at the patronizing while patting themselves on the back over their own criticism.

I used to drive a half-mile out of my way to buy my Sunday newspaper from an occasionally homeless dude whose attitude I liked. He lived part-time at a homeless shelter. But, he saved enough money to buy some tools and combining that with odd jobs – aside from his newspaper sales – he was able to start a handyman service that eventually got him into his own apartment. Since I was working for a subcontractor at the time I was able to steer some business his way – and that felt good, too.

He didn’t want charity. He wanted work. That’s what the hotspot project provided. I have nothing polite to say to the critics.

2 thoughts on “Homeless Hotspot at SXSW — stirs debate

  1. moss says:

    There is more kinship between the “purity” of some ivory tower academicians and the Ayn Rand flavor of tea party ideologues than either will admit. But, it’s there in sectarian sound bites and savaging of programs which just “try to get something useful accomplished”.

    Debate society politics should be relegated to posh universities and nouveau niche pubs – while ordinary human beings go about the task of surviving this class-based economy.

  2. Mark says:

    I agree with the editors comments. The reaction to this sums up all the things I dislike about the liberal left, and I used to count myself among them. I’m convinced that the self styled middle class ‘intelligentsia’, who always claim to know whats best for the working class, need to stop feeling guilty about their own lifestyles and start allowing the patronized poor to improve their own lot through work and inclusion in society.

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