SXSW: What the Heck is a Homeless Hotspot?

BlogHer Original Post

Let's say you're walking around SXSW cursing the lack of wifi on 6th Street. And then, suddenly, salvation: You see a woman wearing a t-shirt that says, "I'm Susie, a 4G hotspot. SMS HH Susie to 25827 for access wwww.homelesshotspots.org."

Susie herself is a hotspot, complete with all the necessary equipment. A walking, talking hotspot. A homeless hotspot. Hot damn, aren't you in luck!

(There is no Susie on the project. It just felt too weird to use a real person's name in this scenario. Here are the real people who participated in the Homeless Hotspot project at SXSW this year, including Clarence, in the video above.)

When I lived in Chicago, the homeless sold a newspaper called Streetwise. They could be very aggressive in asking you to buy Streetwise, so I would usually buy one from the first person I saw and then walk around waving it the rest of the day. (Supporting the homeless, yay. Being aggressively approached by someone with 60 pounds and six inches on you? Not yay, hence the waving of the newspaper.) So this idea of homeless folks selling something on the street is totally not new ... but the product and the method of delivery is.

The Streetwise folks were peddling a physical newspaper they sold to you and with which you walked away. The Homeless Hotspot people are selling access to something only privileged people would need access to -- which is why I think I'm struggling with the whole idea a lot. I was in Austin this weekend for Dad 2.0 but only made it into town once, and I didn't see any Homeless Hotspots while I was there. I'm curious if anyone in the community did or in fact used one. What was that like? What did you chat about with your hotspot while you were using him or her? (I do realize it was the equipment being used -- the people didn't have chips in their heads -- but the way it is marketed makes it seem like the person him- or herself is the hotspot.)

I heard on the radio a lot of discussion this morning and a lot of people being concerned the homeless people would steal the equipment. I don't think that's even a concern, because their pictures are on the website and they clearly received training before they got into it. I think them getting mugged is probably a greater possibility than them making off with the equipment. Plus, why are we assuming just because they are homeless they're more likely to steal equipment than your local TV cameraman? This is a job they've been offered, and they're homeless -- I'm thinking they're not wanting to screw it up.

This whole gig is something that begs for commentary. The company that dreamed it up, BBH Labs, presented its defense of its program after hearing a ton of backlash. Most salient point:

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