At the recent SXSW 2012 conference, Homeless Hotspots, a short-term charity project by New York City-based creative company BBH Labs in collaboration with Austin-based Front Steps shelter was launched. Several homeless individuals (wearing t-shirts that read “I’m a 4G hotspot”) roamed downtown Austin as “Hotspot Managers” and offered 4G wireless service for a monetary donation to a Paypal account.
BBH Labs describes the project on their blog:
This year in Austin, as you wonder between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can’t download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” t-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access. We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity.
There has been a fair amount of controversy around these walking hotspots. In a recent blog post, BBH Labs speaks about this controversy and clears up some false rumors. CNET’s Daniel Terdiman recaps the story and adds in his commentary in his story titled Homeless hot spots at SXSW: A manufactured controversy.
Techli spoke with Clarence, a participant in this unique experiment:
Clarence is from New Orleans, LA. He prefers the term “houseless” to “homeless.” He originally lost his house in Katrina and has had financial trouble since. He considers himself a good guy and tries to be a good friend to people.