I did a quick search for "Homeless Hotspots" on Film Annex and didn't find any posts on the subject, so I thought I would share my thoughts and hopefully open a discussion. For those who are asking themselves, "what the WHAT is a Homeless Hotspot," here's a video you can watch, and here's the "charitable innovation initiative's" official web-page. In short, Homeless Hotspots is a charitable initiative introduced at SXSW that aims to modernize the street newspaper model, provide visibility to the issue of homelessness, and support people who are homeless. To do this, BBH Labs has paid 14 people who are homeless in Austin $50/day to walk around the city with a 4G WiFi router and provide users with WiFi in exchange for donations.
First and foremost, I would like to laud BBH Labs for their intentions. Homelessness is a serious issue in the U.S, and we should not discourage anyone from trying to mitigate the problem or give the issue visibility. That being said, neither should we support them blindly; I have two main issues with Homeless Hotspots that shouldn't be hard for BBH Labs to fix.
Issue #1 is that the program seems exploitive--is it actually going to help people overcome homelessness? Sure, the participants are being paid, but are they being paid minimum wage? Just because people in the program are happy to accept less than minimum wage, does not make it acceptable to pay them any less. Minimum wage is not a standard set for employees with homes, it is a standard set for any person legally providing labor in the United States (and no, having a home is not a requirement for legally providing labor). The bottom line is that BBH Labs should be paying their "4G Hotspots," as they call them, minimum wage--which conveniently brings me to issue #2.
It seems impossible to provide visibility to the issue of homelessness while at the same time reducing human beings to machines. T-shirts worn by participants in the Homeless Hotspots program display the text, "I'M [NAME], A 4G HOTSPOT." How does this help convey the complex issue of homelessness? Over-simplification of the issue is exactly what makes it so easy for people to ignore it in the first place--we need every possible reminder that the homeless are human beings, that there are reasons why they are homeless, and that there are reasons why homelessness is so hard to overcome. In order to truly provide visibility to the issue of homelessness, BBH Labs should avoid simplifying the issue at all costs.
If these two issues are fleshed out, I think Homeless Hotspots can actually achieve its goal of supporting homeless communities and making the issue of homelessness more visible--what do you think?