Marketing agency BBH Labs was been inspired to turn local homeless people into hotspots while attending the South by South West conference in Austin, Texas. Each homeless representative will be given a sign and a 4G connection to alert people of their location while they walk around and make connections for people in exchange for donations.
This idea is sheer madness, the general public does not even want to share public facilities with the homeless (think about how many homeless people are kicked out of libraries) and they certainly aren’t going to initiate an interaction with a vagrant but according to The Inquirer BBH thinks that it will work: “They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access.”
Some people have reacted to the idea by saying that BBH is exploiting the homeless and not paying them enough — that they are corrupt because the homeless representatives will be independent contractors meaning that they might not even make minimum wage.
The homeless 4G vendor in the following YouTube thinks that this will be a wonderful experience and opportunity for him to get his life back on track:
Commenters either vilified BBH on the blog for their Homeless Hotspot idea while others thought that it helped economically challenged people rise above:
“Calling it “charitable” is a pretty crappy way to get around federal minimum wage laws. Luck for you the US Attorney in Texas is a Bush appointee.”
“The critics have it all wrong. The homeless are not being exploited. They get paid, get a chance to meet and talk to people for a relatively minor chore of carrying a wireless hot spot. It’s safer than being a day laborer, pleasanter than standing on the street waving a sign directing drivers to a real-estate development, and offers more real contact than selling newspaper. Those who criticize the radiation exposure should ask whether a hot spot manned by paid staff, which is common at many conferences, is not just as risky. BBH labs deserves praise for an innovative idea to offer homeless a chance to make money and mingle with people.”
“Plan A – homeless receive money for doing a job they agreed to. Plan B – homeless get nothing. And you think Plan B is more moral than Plan A??? lol. What a joke! This confirms my suspicions that the homeless are people the rest of you are ‘voting off the island’… and your wolf pack morality then views doing anything for them to be wrong. BBH if you read this, please don’t abandon this project because you’ve been besieged by evil – you are in the right here, and the homeless will be better off as a result of your efforts.”
“I definitely see the merit in the arguments of those defending the program and of those who are outraged by it. I think it’s important, however, to consider that (from what I gather in the article) no one is being forced to do this. If an individual is fully aware of the risks/implications of participating in this program, shouldn’t they have the option to take part? it could, of course, be argued that the often extremely desperate situation that much of the homeless population face could take away this notion of agency. The moral integrity of this program, in my opinion, relies on the unlikely assumption that no deception or wrongful coercion of a participant would take place. My biggest issue with this program is actually the safety concerns associated with being able to track the hotspots, and with that, the individual. For a group that is already at huge risk for violence and other horrific assaults, this just doesn’t seem wise…”
Safety might be the biggest issue that BBH needs to consider. The homeless contractors are under very little supervision. While there are many homeless that are clean cut hard working people capable of interacting with the community, there are also many homeless individuals suffering from mental and physical diseases that could lead to public health and safety risks for the people who elect to make exchanges with this specific group of representatives. We also need to protect these representatives from becoming targets of violent crimes.