I’m sure you’ve heard about the “homeless hotspot” controversy by now.
In short, a Manhattan advertising agency provided free mobile hotspots to 13 homeless individuals interested in selling access to the Internet at SXSW in Austin, TX.
Critics around the world, myself included, snapped to judgment. I immediately took offense to the “I am a 4G hotspot” t-shirt gimmick that exploited the homeless and triggered an array of discriminatory comments on the radio and Internet.
But after a little research and a lot of thought, I’m starting to warm up to the potential of an “I am not just a 4G hotspot” campaign. As it turns out, the idea was fashioned after street newspapers that provided homeless individuals with an outlet to share their experiences, interact with society, and make a few dollars in the process. To ensure participants fully benefit: all sellers are currently enrolled in case management, volunteer to participate, and earn 100 percent of the proceeds (including those from hundreds of miles away via Internet donations). While for the advertising agency, the project isn’t yet monetized, it isn’t clear whether or not they will benefit from the press.
Radio-frequency issues aside, this could be a social enterprise working to benefit homeless individuals while keeping pace with technology trends. I’d object to a business model that abuses cheap labor, but would applaud a socially responsible, St. Francis Center approach. One that gives homeless individuals the opportunity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps while sharing individual stories about who they are and where they came from to get out the message “I am not just a 4G hotspot.”
Photo credit: miniyo73