A Rant about Homeless Hotspots

by Jeremy Hodge on March 31, 2012

It’s been a little over a month since I last wrote, and it’s been filled with a lot of travel and work commitments, so unfortunately, I haven’t had any time to write. There have been a lot of exciting things that have happened over the past month in the tech world, including SXSWi. Amid all of the coverage, and the new gadgets and companies being launched, there was one initiative going on at SXSWi that really caught my attention and still needs to be talked about, even though it happened several weeks ago. The initiative is called Homeless Hotspots and it’s a sad commentary on how the tech community treats social issues.

Homeless Hotspots was conceived by BBH labs and ran as a pilot program at SXSWi. 13 volunteers from an Austin homeless shelter were given mobile hotspots, business cards and T-shirts with their names: ā€œIā€™m;, a 4G Hotspot.ā€ These homeless volunteers were paid $20 a day, went deep into the crowds at the conference and offered WiFi in exchange for donations (they also got to keep all the donations they collected).

While I understand that these people are getting paid, the overall effort feels like exploitation. The poor are getting a little bit of money so those with money and the gadgets can connect to the internet, and do their business. It feels very symbolic of the rich piggy backing off the poor. There are some who have defended Homeless Hotspots, saying that it allows the homeless community to interact with SXSW participants in a way that they never would have in the past. The effort has also been compared to the street newspapers that homeless people sell.

The tech community can do a lot better than recreate the street newspapers. If they really wants to help the homeless, than they should shift their focus to enabling the homeless to use these technologies to better themselves, connect with others who are homeless and ultimately develop skills that can put them back in the work force. The current effort feels gimicky and offensive, and makes the tech community look like a bunch of out of touch rich people, who don’t really understand what is going on in the world.

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