From the Director: Charitable Experiment?
Word spread this week about a new technology being tested at this year’s South by Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas. International marketing agency BBH came up with the idea of turning persons who are home- less into wireless hot-spots. BBH went to an Austin shelter, hired residents (for $20 a day) and then equipped them with mobile Wi-Fi devices (dubbed Mi-Fi) and a t-shirt that advertised the service they were offering. It seems at these conferences that the huge number of attendees toting wireless devices often overwhelm cellular networks thus pro- viding BBH just the right environment to test their product. Signal starved conference goers could gain access to the Mi-Fi network by making a “dona- tion” to the homeless person turned signal tower. BBH called their efforts a “charitable experiment” (only after they were hit with a wave of criticism) and said it was a modernization of the street newspaper model. Really?
Like the thirty-some other street news paper s in the United States , Street Sense provides its vendors with instant access to a low-barrier employment opportunity (our vendors are self- employed, independent contractors) intended to provide them with both income and portable job skills. Simultaneously, we publish a bi-weekly news- paper where vendors can voice their opinions, tell their
stories and share their art. Street Sense aims to inform the public about the issue of homelessness in the hope that readers will take action in their community in support of initiatives to address the problem.
I began my career in social services at a time when homelessness was seen as an outrage, and a temporary, solvable problem that was unacceptable in a nation as wealthy as ours. BBH’s “charitable experiment” strikes me as just another example of how accept- able homelessness has become over the years. Their product is not an attempt to address the issue; it’s an attempt to exploit it.
We at Street Sense still view homelessness as an outrage. Through honest hard work and by raising their voice, we hope our vendors continue to be empowered by the paper.