Controversy Over Homeless Hotspots

DH and I were just watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and normally we think his material is funny and informative. Tonight we just had to disagree with him. His rant tonight was over the homeless people that were being ‘used’ as wireless hotspots. DH and I both took exception to saying that they were being used.

These individuals who have no home, no income and no place to go were given a chance to make money and connect with other human beings who would otherwise not give them a second glance. I would imagine that BBH New York, the company doing this program, would seek out the non-violent, non-crazy, non-drug or alcohol addicted members of the homeless community to offer this service. Really who of us would be willing to approach someone who looked like they were coked out of their head or was walking around ranting and raving craziness (both of which I have personally encountered).

Those of us who have visited the city from the calmer rural areas are not used to seeing homeless people though I am sure they exist here too.  When traveling for business we were always told to keep our eyes ahead and ignore the panhandlers because if we gave money to one they would harrass the others traveling with us and others begging in similar manner would gravatate to our group relentlessly. Noticing the demeanor of many city dwellers toward the homeless and panhandlers was eyeopening to say the least. Natives were cold and almost rude to those living on the streets. Surely having lived there so long and seeing them often city dwellers become desensitized to their plight and find it difficult to see the difference between the ones who are there by choice and those who were dumped there by crappy chance. For example, check out Jeffrey’s story.

Looking at the way the economy has been in the past 5 years or so, really, how many of those who now find themselves homeless were once productive, hardworking, members of society. Now through circumstances beyond their control they find themselves in and out of homeless shelters, soup kitchens and cardboard boxes in dark alleys. They need to eat. They need to be clothed. They need fellowship with other human beings to maintain their sanity.

DH brought up a good point (from the perspective of a businessman) that since the homeless are many times ignored and rendered as less than human, in the streets of their own design (as generally believed) wouldn’t this opportunity to offer a service for a small fee/donation be a way for them to connect and feel useful again.

Think about this hypothetical situation – if a businessman/woman were walking down the street and wanted to check something on their phone but didn’t want to use the data plan (or couldn’t because they’d already gone over) and there was a homeless man offering a hotspot just down the street. Now in their need they approach the man and ask for the password to the network. In their curiosity they engage the man homeless person in conversation about how they ended up on the street. Let’s say that because of the economy their factory had to shut down, they had family medical bills and a mortgage that wasn’t paid off. No one was hiring so they lived off their savings as long as they could, but eventually had to give up the house to foreclosure and took their last bit of money to come to the city looking for work. Since then they have been living out of their car, which was the only posession they had that was their’s free and clear. His wife went to live with their family but in shame he could not bring himself to burden her family with his needs if he could not find work. The businessman, who would normally never have engaged a homeless person on the street in conversation, realizes that this man has skills that could be used in a position he has open in his company. It pays only minimum wage, but this job offer would never have found the man under normal circumstances. His willingness to be “used”, as Mr. Stewart so coldly claims, opened the door to a potential comeback for the man and his family – one he would not have found otherwise.

The other part of his rant that upset me a bit was about the potential radiation exposure to these poor people. Does he not realize that EVERYONE who has a smartphone with a data plan – whether broadcasting/sharing it or not – is exposed to some level of radiation? You carry it on your hip, in your pocket, practically attached to the side of your face ALL THE TIME and you don’t think you are going to be exposed to similar levels of radiation.

The final part of his bit that totally pissed me off was the “homeless person wifi cafe” where they portrayed using homeless persons as tables, chairs, lamps etc in an outdoor cafe setting. This is not Nazi Germany and until there is evidence to the contrary I DO NOT BELIEVE that the homeless who are acting as wireless hotspots were corralled and forced against their will to do something demeaning. The homeless who were hired don’t find it dehumanizing or demeaning, why should we? By putting our big fat noses in the situation we are taking food out of their mouths by scaring other companies who might want to use a similar approach.  It seems peoples haughty opinions have already put the kibosh on BBH’s plan to continue a similar service in New York City.  Put yourself in the homeless’ position – you’re houseless, hungry and penniless; Are you really going to turn down an opportunity to make some legitimate, non-exploitative money?!? Fine they are “exploiting” where these homeless live — they are going to be there anyway, why can’t they make some money while they are there.

Think to yourself, and be honest, what have you done recently for a homeless person. Not just donating to a random charity who doles out aid to people who are to us faceless members of an ever growing crowd. What have you personally done for a homeless person of flesh and blood that was standing right in front of you? The last thing my DH, my brother and I did was feed a homeless couple in a park in Atlanta. That was a long time ago, and even though the experience ended well it did not start that way (that’s a story for a different day). Really, all the haters out there need to get a life and allow the homeless who have willingly joined the ranks of the wandering wireless hotspots to have a chance to rebuild their lives.

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