Having worked with homeless men and women in the past, I am really frustrated by people and businesses that take advantage of homeless people. Having homeless people walk around with the idea that they will be paid $2 for every fifteen minutes that they provide wifi for SXSW attendees sounds like a great idea. “Wow, we’re really helping people here. We’re giving back!” But really, if you were homeless (or better yet, if you weren’t), would you do it?
Imagine walking around in a group of strange people who obviously have more money and resources than you and are probably drunk or in some state of non-sobriety (oh yes, I’ve heard the stories about South By) with a large billboard (or teeshirt) drawing attention to the fact that you are homeless and obviously don’t belong there. People who would normally walk over you or sneer at you are now awkwardly approaching you, obviously uncomfortable, asking for the opportunity to stand near you while they do things more important than asking how they could really help you. When they’re done, you hope that they’ll give you at least $2 (via Paypal, I believe). If fifteen people come up to you, use your “services” for 15 mins a piece, and pay the $2/15 mins rate, you’ll have $30 at the end of the day. How would you feel if you got $30 after a whole day of standing outside working in the sun? These people may be homeless, but they’re still human beings, with pride and an idea of how much they are worth.
Instead of turning homeless people into walking wifi hotspots, why not hire them as paid volunteers at SXSW, so that they can shed the stigma of “being homeless” for a few days and interface with people who would normally treat them like nothing?
Or…how about asking some homeless people to speak at an impromptu tweetup about how to best mobilize social media tools to help and connect their communities?
The belief that giving homeless people temporary money is going to make them “better” is archaic and somewhat ignorant. Teaching and training people, or connecting them with resources that they can use to make positive steps forward – those are the tools that create new lives.