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SXSW: What Was Wrong With The Homless Hotspots? OpED

There’s a lot of buzz about the marketing project “Homeless Hotspots” this year at South By South West Interactive. In the project, seen in the above Mashable video, 13 homeless men were charged with the task of recruiting passerbys to use their wifi for a nominal donation. The average donation was $2.00 for 15 minutes. Of course that’s relatively close to what you would pay at a pay as you go internet cafe, however it was a donation and could be whatever you wanted.

The small donation gets back to the homeless person after collected by the marketing agency BBH that is putting out the promotion and awareness about Austin’s homeless population.

The promotion has been met with ire around the internet. Call me strange but I don’t get the objection at all. As BBH’s Saneel Randia pointed out in a blog post, this Homeless Hotspot initiative is much like the homeless providing street newspapers, which happens regularly in New York City.

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Because of my overrated nicotine addiction I got to spend a decent amount of time with the homeless hotspot folks. I used it one time, despite having several sources of internal wifi in my Powerbag, just to see what it was like.

BBH could not have picked better homeless people. They were polite, knowledgeable about the product, and typically a lot of fun. One thing you learn when you grow up in the inner city (Baltimore in my case), is that homeless people can help you kill time by telling some fascinating stories. Of course they are sprinkled with half truths but nonetheless their stories are great. Some of the guys even sung and danced like Clarence.

So I was connected to the homeless hotspot for maybe 5 minutes and the guy got a $10 donation from me. Do you think I would have given him $10 if he was begging on the street outside the Hilton or the convention center? Perhaps a $1.00 or some loose change but never $10.

Mashable’s Adam Falk suggests that some people are outraged that this marketing company was turning homeless people into products and not people, to that I really can’t find a nicer way to say it, but it’s bull shit. I wish the hipster press and commenters out there would realize that at shows like South By Southwest, homeless people are temporarily employed all the time. Most as just sign holders.

What the frack is wrong with putting homeless people to work. Some of the guys who did homeless hotspot do day work when they can. There are outreach centers in Austin that can give them day work, however the gentleman I spoke to actually uses the free wifi at one of the church run shelters and a gmail address to respond to “gig” assignments off of craigslist.

In this economy people are trying to do whatever they can to make ends meet. Shouldn’t you applaud BBH for having the idea for this promotion, and applaud the homeless person who didn’t drink all night the previous night and was able to get up to work from 8am-7pm everyday during SXSW interactive?

At the end of the day, SXSW goers got to see and meet a homeless person they would not have otherwise interacted with. They got to hear stories about life from the homeless person and about the homeless issue in Austin Texas.

Flame on…

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