In between the parties and the panels, twelve homeless men and one woman have been wandering the streets of Austin this week, offering SXSW-goers a hot commodity: wifi. As part of a “charitable” experiment to integrate discussion of homelessness into the SXSW discourse., New York-based ad agency BBH Labs has transformed thirteen homeless people into “Homeless Hotspots.”As can be imagined, many people are troubled by the dehumanizing elements of Homeless Hotspot “managers” walking around in tee-shirts that read:
I’M [FIRST NAME],
A 4G HOTSPOT
SMS HH [FIRST NAME]
TO 25827 FOR ACCESS
A 4G connection in exchange for a suggested donation of $2 per 15 minutes.
BuzzFeed collected a roundup of critiques, from the New York Time’s David Gallagher calling it “a little dystopian” to Tweeters declaring the two-week project to be “disturbing” and “offensive.”
Obviously, there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villianizes us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we’re trying to help: homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible.
The company clarifies that it is not selling anything, the Hotspot Managers will keep their profits, and rebutting speculation that the experiment will be turned into a reality TV show.
Wired reported that this project is an extension of advocacy for the homeless that was seen in Underheard in New York, a campaign created by BBH interns that gave four homeless men cell phones for 60 days and had them Tweet about their lives.
BBH Labs had also compared the project with street newspapers that is sold by the homeless and gives them an outlet for self expression. Following criticism, BBH Labs noted that that had been an inaccurate analogy considering that “Homeless Hotspot” does not allow the Managers to create content.
Watch Clarence, who lost his house in Hurricane Katrina, discuss the project. What do you think?