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Homeless Hotspots: insulting or ingenious?

Editor’s note: this piece arrives a few days later than expected. Apologies dear readers, new iPaddery + poor scheduling/communication means it’s only just seeing the light of day… We hope you still enjoy! James, over to you.

Last week, while gliding through my Google Reader (thank you Reeder), I found this story from Read Write Web about a ‘social experiment’ running alongside SXSW in Austin entitled ‘Homeless Hotspots‘.

I tweeted it, it was retweeted by some folk oh and then, an hour later, it appeared on Wired. News travels fast.

The premise is simple enough: equip the homeless of Austin with a 4G Mi-Fi, ask punters pay for access (minimum payment: $2) in 15min chunks and well, the rest is fairly obvious. Except, some people have taken offence

Personally, I fall down on the side of the positives:

  1. Income for the homeless. Consider that on other days they might sell a newspaper or a magazine, but as the digital age slowly creeps over us all, then this ‘trade’ will need an overhaul. I mean, having the Big Issue as an iPad app kind of defeats the object, right?
  2. Social interaction. Let’s say that 90% of the charity giving public gives, then goes. I’ve been known to ‘spare some change’ from time to time, but I have very rarely stuck around for conversation for longer than five minutes afterwards. The homeless hotspot by its very nature forces you to at least stay in the vicinity if the ‘hotspot’ in question for a quarter of an hour; increasing social interaction and further fighting the curse of the invisible people
  3. Intense and passion debate around an important issue. Yes the work is contentious. Yes it makes the inside of the back of your brain icky at the thought of people being ‘used’ in this way. And YES it makes you feel a little bit sick due to the sheer tastelessness of it all. BUT – listen closely – THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT.

Every day millions of homeless people are ignored by the pavement-strolling public and every day their plight gets worse.
As I said to a fellow tweeter on Monday

A social experiment that actually provokes unrest about the way we treat homeless people, sparking conversation and debate? Win.”

The fact that this took place at the media mecca that is SXSW makes it all the better.
Well done, BBH, well done indeed.

MIR Readers, opinions please –

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