Staring at your smartphone could help the homeless
One in 200 Aussies are homeless on any given day. And whenever a serious, intractable problem arises, commentators often suggest that the government raise an army of homeless people to fix it.
That’s what an American business has done. Except, not exactly with an army, and with the intent of solving a problem that’s more of the first world variety: Wireless internet access.
A marketing company has turned homeless people in Austin, Texas, into walking, talking wireless hot spots.
Is it just me or does your wireless router look like it could do with a feed and some warm, clean clothes?
It may sound a little bizarre. But the idea is that when passersby tap into the network with their smartphones or computers they’ll be prompted to pay a small fee, part of which the homeless vendor would receive as payment.
The program has sparked a ridiculous controversy in the US, a Wired blogger thundering: “This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future”. Bull.
The program is really just a modern day twist on what The Big Issue sales-men and –women do on the streets everyday in CBDs throughout Australia. The hotspot program has provided a few people in a troubled place with a job – and the money and sense of worth that accompany it.
The Big Issue program itself has been a resounding success here in Oz. According to figures supplied to The Punch by the charity yesterday, they’ve currently got 470 vendors who have been homeless or had troubles working annually. The magazine’s circulation has grown steadily, from 7000 copies in 1996 to 33,000 this year.
The idea of a homeless hotspot isn’t so ridiculous that something like it shouldn’t happen in Australia.
It turns out that a some major Australian charities who assist the homeless have jumped on the technological bandwagon as well. Just like major companies, they know there’s a market in cyberspace that can be tapped into to help the homeless. St Vinnies for example.
As winter approaches this year and homeless people become more under threat, St Vinnies NSW will be launching its second campaign to help the homeless using QR codes, those bar codes you see around town that you can scan with your smartphone.
You might for instance see the silhouette of a homeless person drawn into the ground at your local train station with a scannable code on it. These codes will lead you to a website that will show you stories about how St Vinnies doesn’t just give handouts to the homeless, but tries to break homeless people out of a cycle of destitution.
St Vinnies NSW marketing manager Julie McDonald told The Punch yesterday that this technology would be deployed at the charity’s annual CEO Sleep Out this year as well, to try and get CEOs to empathise with the homeless.
“When you give to charities like Vinnies you’re investing in somebody,” McDonald said. “And like any investment there’s a return on investment.”
But there’s still plenty of potential for an entrepreneur who wanted to make an investment that makes a difference in someone’s life to pull off something like the homeless hotspot program in Australia.
After all, there’s only a few real problems with the homeless hotspot idea as is.
1. The idea of portraying a person as a “hotspot” is a little dehumanising. They could just advertise Clarence in the video above as someone carrying a hotspot, since that’s what he’s doing.
2. What happens when the homeless person has to go to the loo?
Neither of them are big issues. But somebody smart could turn this idea into Australia’s next Big Issue.
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