The buzz is spreading about a marketing firm’s unique attempt to draw attention (and contributions) to the homeless population in Austin during the annual tech portion of SXSW.
BBH Labs, with offices in NYC and London, is the brains (some would argue otherwise) behind this publicity stunt where homeless folks are outfitted with a wireless internet transmitter and dispatched around the popular tech start-up conference. For a PayPal donation, you can “buy” Internet access for as long as you need. The donations, according to BBH, go to the homeless person, er….hosting the hotspot. The marketing firm teamed up with an Austin-area homeless advocacy group to create the attention-grabbing project.
The reaction has been largely been one of disgust. Get on Twitter and search #homelesshotspots to take a peek at what people are saying.
My take? Advocacy efforts aren’t always popular and sometimes the execution can appear misguided. This seems like an interesting way to put the issue of homelessness square in the middle of an environment created to showcase how advanced we’ve gotten (technologically, anyway). The contrast is striking to say the least. What’s the worst thing that happens? People get Internet access; homeless folks get donations without begging; and everyone walks away feeling good.
It seems like a knee-jerk reaction to call this an outrage and ignore the underlying issue of creating a tech-savvy way to get those who are “haves” to help those who are “have nots.”