Homeless Hot Spots

A marketing company called BBH Labs  engaged in an experimental program aimed at bringing attention to and helping the homeless.  They turned the homeless into 4G hotspots. Yes, you read that right. 4G hotspots.  BBH Labs gave some homeless folks a transponder and a t-shirt. The t-shirt declared the name of the homeless person and the fact that they were a hot spot. One could then approach the homeless person, introduce themselves, pay whatever they felt was fair, (from $2 on up) get the password and connect away. The homeless person was paid a stipend of $20 a day plus whatever cash was handed to them and a portion of whatever was paid into PayPal.


Now that I have told you that and after I quit laughing (yes that was my first reaction) I got to thinking about this. Was this for real? Seriously? What was going to happen if it worked? Would there be no more dead spots in the canyons created by skyscrapers within cities. What would be the names that would come up on your Wi-Fi spot? Would you be able to connect to, say, Stinky Sally or Pirate Bob? Is this actually a solution to the homeless problem or was it just using the homeless, under the guise of charity to promote your company. How did they choose the homeless that would have the transponders?  So off to do some research.


To answer the last question, the homeless chosen are participants from Austin’s Front Steps shelter in Texas.  They were volunteers and, as previously mentioned, were guaranteed to make $50 for a maximum of 6 hours of work. That was more than the Texas state minimum wage of $7.25/hr for the same number hours. Not bad money.  The program ended on March 6 of this year.  So now what happens to the homeless that were participating? The shelter they were part of has a program that helped the homeless participant save 2/3’s of what they earned.  However, now they need another job. On one hand, it is a boon in finances and definitely helps them on the road to recovery but on the other are they not back to where they were? Looking for work (assuming they are looking)?


I honestly think that it is a good idea. I am torn though. Part of me really thinks this is exploitative. Yes it helped some homeless earn some income, but did it actually help them long term? Isn’t helping the homeless learn new skills and helping them get a job a better long-term solution? I am not naive and am aware that there are those out there who need much more help: Help in getting off of drugs, learning how to be sober, help with mental illness, but despite the stereo types, there are those who just need a helping hand. Strapping a transponder on them for a couple of weeks and paying them for it is not a long-term solution. It is a short-term solution and nothing more than a publicity stunt.


The website even tracks the homeless that have the transponders. You can go to http://homelesshotspots.org/ and see a map with their pictures and movements. When I saw that, I was immediately reminded of an old comedy film, which I cannot even remember where it first aired. This film was a parody of the old Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom.  It showed Marlin Perkins and Jim tracking, anesthetizing and collaring the wild North American Bum.  They then tracked the movements of the bum. Do not know how I feel about a company tracking and publishing the movements of the homeless. I understand that in theory it is helpful for someone finding the hotspot, but it is a bit too Big Brotherish for me.


I guess if you absolutely had to make a phone call, check Facebook, get that Tweet out or take your turn in a word game, roaming hotspots would be good. Truly, who wants to wait until they get a good signal?

In this day and age of immediate gratification, how happy would one be to find homeless harry with a transponder.  Saved, you can now ask your friend what they are doing for lunch. Who cares that the spot is attached to a real live person who truly is less fortunate than you are, that would probably like to meet someone for lunch. What is important is that you got a signal, oh, and look what a good person you are! You helped the homeless. Good on you!


What do you think? Is this a good program and should it continue or is it exploitative?