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Homeless People Turned into Walking Wi-Fi Hotspots

Thanks to the advent of smartphones, tablets, laptops and the other countless web-connected gadgets, it's pretty much guaranteed that anytime you have a large gathering of people in one place, the cell phone and Wi-Fi networks are going to take a beating. Though many event organizers will make every effort to bolster the networks in order to cope with the extra demand, they're not always successful. This year, at SXSW in Austin, Texas, one marketing company tried to help out those in need of a Wi-Fi connection in a very unconventional way: They turned homeless people into Wi-Fi hotspots.

BBH Labs, a branch of marketing agency BBH, ran an experiment over the weekend called the 'Homeless Hotspots' project. The company equipped 13 volunteers from a local homeless with mobile hotspots and gave them t-shirts with "I'm [name], a 4G hotspot," on the front. The volunteers were then sent off to offer WiFi access to people in exchange for a suggested donation of $2 for 15 minutes.

BBH gave the volunteers an upfront payment of $20 per day for their work, with a minimum of $50 per day being promised and also allowed them to keep any donations they received. However, the stunt has caused some controversy at SXSW and some have criticized BBH's scheme. Many people on Twitter have labeled it degrading or exploitative. In response to the negative feedback, BBH says the idea is built on the practice of homeless people selling newspapers for a dollar on the street and that they're trying to raise awareness for the homeless.

"We saw it as a means to raise awareness by giving homeless people a way to engage with mainstream society and talk to people," BBH told the New York Times. "The hot spot is a way for them to tell their story."

Additionally, the volunteers involved seemed happy to take part. One Dusty White told the Huffington Post that the the chance to talk to SXSW attendees and earn money made him feel proud. "I felt like it was a positive thing," he said. "They could have done this with anyone." Another participant, Clarence Jones, said that he was happy to work for pay. "Everyone thinks I'm getting the rough end of the stick, but I don't feel that," NYT quotes Jones as saying. "I love talking to people and it’s a job. An honest day of work and pay."

The experiment was supposed to run from Friday through to Monday but rain meant that the volunteers were only fulfilling their duties as roaming hotspots through Sunday and Monday. However, the website homelesshotspots.org still allows people to donate to the volunteers involved in the project.

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  • flamethrower205
    "Many people on Twitter have labeled it degrading or exploitative."

    There will always be the bunch that defend an arbitrary set of "morals" because they have no touch with reality. After all, sitting outside in the cold begging for a quarter and getting hassled police has never made a homeless person feel degraded.

    This seems like a nice project, I support it. Perhaps this will even provide that initial push to help some turn their lives around.
    Reply
  • house70
    Good idea, we need more ideas like that. It's a win-win.
    Reply
  • Im conflicted. I was homeless (a traveler, 18+ countries) for the better part of 11 years, and was always looking for work (and I always found it) - so I think this is ok for folks needing money. However, its bad in the sense that it for all intensive purposes turns people into intimate objects.

    Still torn on this, and as someone deeply involved in the technology community, as well as having been 'homeless' in many countries, albeit teaching workshops on linux, wifi technology (am currently working internal IT and have a house that I own)- I'd say that overall, this is neither a good or a bad thing. It is what it is.

    One caveat: PLEASE, potential hiring agencies/recruiters- try to not hire obviously strung-out people. Its hard to determine, but, lets not fuel obvious abusers of hard drugs' addictions. Another hard one, because many home-owning, so-called "responsible members of society" abuse drugs and the houseless/homeless are scapegoated constantly for this, unfairly.

    Hobo-hotspot here we come, this is our dystopian future.....
    Reply
  • frankbough
    All I can think is that Chris Morris must run BBH Labs.
    Reply
  • zachusaman
    "Many people on Twitter have labeled it degrading or exploitative."
    HOW DARE THEY GIVE THEM JOBS, THOSE WORTHLESS EXPLOITING BASTARDS!!
    Reply
  • Tab54o
    "degrading or exploitative" really? it's called money in thier pocket. If I was homeless I would gladly do it. Hell I would do it right now! I think the morons calling it degrading should donate 50 bucks to those people and relive them of their hotspottedness.
    Reply
  • bystander
    The only complaint I could see from this is that it is discriminating, not that I'm complaining. I'm sure non-homeless people would do this as well. I don't see the job as any more demeaning than those people waving signs on the sidewalks, trash collectors and many other jobs.
    Reply
  • Tab54o
    bystanderThe only complaint I could see from this is that it is discriminating, not that I'm complaining. I'm sure non-homeless people would do this as well. I don't see the job as any more demeaning than those people waving signs on the sidewalks, trash collectors and many other jobs.
    Exactly, and there isn't really a surplus of jobs right now anyway.
    Reply
  • aoneone
    yay for bums! ^_^
    Reply
  • maxwebb
    good coverage. congratulations.
    Reply