Homeless Hotspots Cause Controversy

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Public wifi hotspotWith the economy in such poor shape, you would think that people would be praising any company that offered anyone a way to make money in a legal manner. A company that offered such an option with no skill requirement involved would be hearing their praises sung, right? And if such a company offered homeless people a way to make some money without panhandling, but by actually providing a service that required nothing more from them than to do what they normally do, wouldn’t they be satisfying bleeding hearts to no end? No. In fact, such a company would apparently be flooded with negative feedback. What gives?

Hotspot Experiment

Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) decided to try an experiment in Austin, TX at the SXSW festival in March. They gave 13 homeless people devices that allowed them to be mobile hotspots. People could buy Internet time from the homeless people using PayPal. The company chose PayPal because of its easy to use tracking features. The homeless people then got to keep the money they made. In other words, they got paid to simply walk around the city and allow people to use their Internet access.

BBH a Villian?

But some people weren’t too excited about this method of employment. Some see it as BBH taking advantage of the needs of homeless people. Not only that, but they saw it as dehumanizing to those that are homeless. While BBH was trying to expand their network and help out those that need it the most, they got turned into the bad guy instead of the good guy.

Socialization and the Homeless

At any rate, the experiment didn’t just reflect the possibility of using this method for a viable means for creating mobile hotspots. It had some social implications as well.

As you walk through the streets and see someone who is homeless, you tend to avert your eyes. Would that change if you had to seek them out for a service? It’s doubtful that most people would seek out a homeless person before simply going to a known hotspot, but if it’s an option, it might actually be a route to seeing the homeless as people who provide some sort of service rather than not seeing them at all.

To call this experiment dehumanizing is to be na"ive. These aren’t people who were forced into labor or even made to do anything at all. Rather, they were provided with the chance to make a living without having to change who they are. How many others can say the same of their jobs?

For those that consider the experiment of offering the homeless a chance to make a living by providing mobile hotspots a method of dehumanization, perhaps they should take a look at other manners of employment.

Realities of Employment

Consider the people who spend 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job for which they have to wear a uniform, submit to drug testing and maybe even associate themselves with a product they abhor. Is there any more honor in that than there is in a homeless person having the chance to make some income simply by carrying a device with them?

Of course, we can expect a slew of unsavory jokes to ensue. There will be mentions of what happens when your hotspot holder wanders off. Or, what happens if your hotspot holder won’t wander around when you want them to? Is this going to be considered poor customer service?

The fact that homeless people were chosen to take this job opportunity is not even close to the year when the homeless were made to wear billboards. Those that would criticize this company and compare the two events are comparing apples to oranges. No one is making anyone take a job as a hotspot. In fact, they’re offering these people the chance to make a living without having to change who they are or their lifestyle.

Ask Yourself some Questions

What would you do if you were offered a job that paid you to do no more than what you are doing right this moment? Would you find it degrading that your lifestyle was able to put you in such a position as to be able to make a living off of simply doing what you normally do? Would you look at the company that offered you this option as some sort of villain?

Before you spend too much time thinking that homeless people are being victimized by this employment opportunity, take a moment to ponder the fact that some homeless people are actually in that position by choice. Granted, many aren’t and are probably just thankful to be given a chance to make a little extra money. But some choose that lifestyle because they only found misery in the day-to-day grind that most of the rest of us choose. We all have the ability to make our own choices.

Alex bring a series of in-depth articles on search marketing and content management systems as well as troubleshooting tips to We Rock Your Web's collection. He is an avid tennis player, nature enthusiast, and hiker, and enjoys spending time with his wife, friends, and dogs, Bella and Lily.

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1 Comment on "Homeless Hotspots Cause Controversy"


It seems to me that people will complain about just about anything. I do feel compassion for people that are homeless, but adults do make their own choices, regardless of almost anything else. I’ve even see some homeless people report that they make more by panhandling than they ever did in a “normal” job. Those are the ones that have simply chosen a different lifestyle than most of us aspire to.

This was an experiment, which by definition is something to answer a posed question. The company wanted to see if this was a feasible plan. I don’t know why people have to jump on a bandwagon and start screaming about exploitation. Really? Some of those homeless people have skills that the rest of us would never even know about. Can you be dropped off anywhere and simply survive? With that being said, why not let the homeless speak for themselves? They aren’t children.


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