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phaedryx's avatar

Homeless people as wi-fi hotspots: what are your thoughts?

Asked by phaedryx (6099 points ) March 13th, 2012

This year, at SXSW, a company “hired members of the local homeless population to walk around carrying mobile Wi-Fi devices, offering conferencegoers Internet access in exchange for donations” plus $20 per day.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/technology/homeless-as-wi-fi-transmitters-creates-a-stir-in-austin.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/life-as-a-homeless-hotspot

What do you think? Good idea? Exploitation?

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18 Answers

Nullo's avatar

Sounds like a good idea to me. It’s no more exploitation than any other flavor of unskilled labor. Though $40+ is more in keeping with my state’s minimum wage requirements.

poisonedantidote's avatar

If it gives them a chance to earn a living and not just $20 then I am all for it. In the UK they have a magazine called The Big Issue, and it is homeless people who sell them. I thought it was a great idea until I found out that A, the magazine is not funded by advertising alone, the homeless have to buy them to sell them. and B, sellers only make about 50 cents a sale. Since then I just started giving them 2 bucks instead.

As long as the homeless people in this project get to earn from it, then I would say it is a real good idea. But if using homeless people to do this is saving some fat cat billions, and the homeless don’t get a cut then its exploitation and wrong. Just make the pay meet an approximation of minimum wage based on hours and im fine with it.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

I actually think it’s a great idea. I’ll be back later to add more to my reply.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with the minimum wage criteria, otherwise yes, it is exploitation.
$20 for how many hours?
Even at min. wage an 8 hour day would net someone $64 not $20.
If they only want the help for a few hours a day they should be paying at least $10 per hour, more like $12. I hate cheap, exploitive labor. Bah!

Shit, I pay a 12 year boy $10 an hour for yardwork, and always pad his pocket. I pay my gardener $20 for “extras” above his regular fees.

funkdaddy's avatar

@Coloma -

It paid each participant $20 a day, and they were also able to keep whatever customers donated in exchange for the wireless service.

So free product to sell + $20… Everyone has to donate something if they connect to the hotspot, the amount is up to them but I can’t imagine them handling a donation under $1.

It’s better than panhandling, let’s the homeless folks sell something that in demand during the busiest weeks of the year, and they probably make a decent amount each day. It was also coordinated through the homeless shelter if I’m not mistaken.

If it wasn’t the homeless I’m pretty sure they could have found college students or plenty of other folks that would have taken the job. I think people find it demeaning just because they specifically set it up with homeless folks so people want to defend them, which is great.

But I think we’ve all had worse gigs.

phaedryx's avatar

(It seems like comparing this to a minimum wage job isn’t as accurate as, say, comparing it to a sales job that works on commission because they can work as little or as much as they want to)

Coloma's avatar

@funkdaddy I missed the donation part. Still..$20 for an entire day? I hope they factored in a lot of bonuses, like another $40 worth. lol

wundayatta's avatar

I guess they are independent contractors. They sell wifi connectivity. Do they need to charge sales tax? Or are they giving away wifi. Then what is the donation for? Are they required to give the connection to anyone who asks?

And what about the device. How long is it live for? A day? The conference? Forever? Do the homeless get to keep it? What if they give out the connection and then decide to wander away? Do people have to follow them to maintain the connection?

This is a case where I’d love to see the market work. Do we have exploitation? I don’t know. Did they have actual contracts with the homeless? Or with the customers? Or was this all good will and haphazard?

I don’t know how the homeless make money. How much can you panhandle in a day? But I think that anything that ties them to the economy in a more regular way is a good thing. Anything that is like a job is a good thing. And besides, maybe they get to take in some tunes or whatnot. That’s gotta be a benefit.

phaedryx's avatar

I forgot to include this link: http://homelesshotspots.org/

zigmund's avatar

Um…is there really such a huge lack of wifi in Austin to warrant this? It’s Austin, not Bastrop. And don’t all of our devices now work with 3G? Is anybody still hauling around a laptop?

funkdaddy's avatar

So there’s wifi pretty much everywhere in downtown Austin, but many are with a purchase of something. Yes there’s 3G, 4G, Clear, and everything else you’ll find elsewhere, but that’s all available for purchase at higher rates.

Also, we’re talking the interactive festival here, imagine several thousand web dorks* descending on 15 square blocks and all wanting to blog, tweet, check in, and search via your coffeehouse wifi connection. There’s a need for additional capabilities.

If you’re away from the office all day, in a connected profession, and need to check in, a few bucks to the homeless gentleman with the hotspot seems to be a win for everyone.

I’m a web dork, so I get to call them that :P

Nullo's avatar

@Coloma Texas has no state minimum wage rate, instead adopting the Federal limit of $7.25/hr. This would work out to $58/8-hour day. Very probably the hotspot providers find themselves in the wait-staff arrangement where the tips count towards their total.

Coloma's avatar

@Nullo Okay, got it. As long as these people are not being used like a donkey in a 3rd world country. :-/

majorrich's avatar

$20 buys at least 3 bottles of Boone’s farm. assuring a static hot spot!

Michael_Huntington's avatar

To add to my response:
1) The homeless people want the job. They’re not being forced or coerced to do it.
2) They’re being paid $20 a day plus any additional donation they might get.
3) It is not physically demanding.
Sure it’s exploitation and demeaning, but honestly, if you were starving on a daily basis, would you rather beg and get ignored or get $20 a day just for hanging out?
My only problem is the pay.

Earthgirl's avatar

phaedryx I believe wundayatta just outquestioned your question, lol. I don’t even know where to start with this one now!

SavoirFaire's avatar

I think it’s an excellent start. Maybe there are details to be worked out, and the issue of fairness in wages is certainly one to be watched closely, but I’m certainly in favor of finding ways to help the homeless—and to help them help themselves. Panhandling is a dirty job. Your working conditions depend on the weather, you never get a day off, and you have to deal with a flood of disrespect from people who think they made it all on their own and don’t have a clue what it’s like to have nothing to your name. If being a hotspot is an improvement on that, I’m all for it.

zigmund's avatar

This article had some good insight from those who run Austin’s homeless shelter, Front Steps.

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