A company has handed out mobile hotspots to homeless folks to walk around SXSW in Austin and people pay them $2 to get a connection to the internet. This set off a lot of comment with some people saying it is exploration and others (including some of the “homeless hotspots” as the workers are known) praising the initiative.
The company behind the initiative says it is trying to modernize the long-time street newspaper model, in which homeless people sell newspapers such as “Street Sense” in cities across the United States.
Despite the controversy, a spokesman for the Front Steps shelter praised the “Hotspots” program Monday, telling the Daily News the participants chose to be involved and were thrilled at the opportunity.
“Our clients were so excited about it,” Mitchell Gibbons, the Director of Development and Communications for the shelter, told the News. “I know there are a lot of negative things being printed, but if you ask any of our clients, they’d tell you this project was a success.”
Gibbons said one homeless individual who took part told him, “These are the same people, if I were not participating in this program, who would walk past me and never stop to talk to me. But because I’m participating in this program… they’re interested in who I am. This wouldn’t happen any other way.”
The objectification of homeless people by referring to them as “homeless hotspots” is ugly and an indication of the dehumanization of the homeless by our society. Geeks like those at SXSW can be especially suseptable to this attitude and they should behave better.
But that said, put me down as saying this is a good thing overall. If folks want to take this job and can make a few bucks there is nothing wrong with that. It is also good thing that a lot of the Geeks at SXSW are looking around trying to find a homeless person to get a fix for their internet addiction instead of just trying to avoid the homeless.