A novel idea: using the homeless as Wi-Fi transmitters


By Jeremy Reynalds and Jonathan Matheny

participant in homeless hotspots

What would you do for at least $20 a day? Would you offer your services as a Wi-Fi hotspot?

This is exactly what has been going on at the South-by-Southwest Technology conference in Austin, Texas.

At the conference, New York-based marketing firm BBH Labs equipped homeless people on the streets of Austin with devices that made them wireless hot spots. Internet seekers then paid for their services in cash or via PayPal-to access the Web. The homeless men and women kept all of the money, according to PR Daily.

BBH Labs called “Homeless Hotspots” a modern version of the street newspapers homeless people often sell on the streets of big cities.

After scrolling through the BBH Labs Website, we found a very developed program. The only amount of cash that exchanged hands was the $20.00 given to each “hotspot manager” per day. Everything beyond that, in collaboration with case managers from a local shelter, was returned to the hotspot manager as part of a program to help save for employment and housing needs.

When asking some homeless shelter residents about what they thought, we received a myriad of responses.

One individual’s eyes lit up. “You mean that I could keep as much as I make? I would do that, even if I didn’t get the cash right away.”

Another person said, “I would be afraid that it would sound like I am selling myself.”

Yet another commented, “Why would you WANT to do that? Could I get busted for panhandling? Could I do both?”

One person wanted to get involved immediately.

Though this program seems to have generated a mixed response, we would be interested to see where BBH Labs take this idea.

We are both totally opposed to anything that would in any way exploit the homeless and add trials to their already difficult life and the multitude of problems they face. Our quick assessment of what this program was offering didn’t find any hint of exploitation.

Assuming that the reality of this human Wi-Fi vendor program is what we believe it to be, we’d even like to suggest that BBH Labs talks to us about joining with our homeless shelter, Joy Junction,  if they choose to do this venture again.
Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, http://www.joyjunction.org He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “Homeless in the City.” Additional details on “Homeless in the City” are available at http://www.homelessinthecity.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at [email protected].