What to think about the homeless hotspots at the big South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin, Texas?
Ten homeless men (including Clarence) have been given t-shirts that read “I am a digital hotspot” and a portable internet device to provide wi-fi access. The idea is that if you see one of these men meandering around the streets you may stop them, offer a few dollars, and they will hang around long enough for you to jump on the internet and check your email.
Is this exploitation of the homeless or an opportunity for the downtrodden?
Owing to SXSW’s homeless hotspots, ten men will get cash, and for at least a few days, not be seen as pariahs. People will talk to them, spend time with them, maybe even learn something about them.
As homeless hotspots these ten men may also be sought out by drunken concert-goers giddy with the idea of paying some bum a few dollars to do things. People may come to view the homeless not as valuable, albeit broken, lives, but a commodity to be exploited.
Thus the debate rages.
It is a good argument to consider, and I am not yet persuaded that this is good, or bad.
For the moment I am favoring the idea. The ten homeless men have been given an opportunity to engage in civic and economic life. Whether or not something comes from the experience, they have each been given an opportunity.
In any case, it seems to be an interesting experiment and one that will likely garner national attention.