Saturday, March 24, 2012

Question: Innovative or Exploitative?

For more than 125 years, organizations have been trying to figure out ways to help the homeless. Innovative projects, first started by The Salvation Army in the 19th Century, have included "homeless" newspapers to give the chronically homeless a way to collect money with dignity and, in turn, to publicize the plight of the poor and homeless. In 1989, one such newspaper "The Street News" began operation in New York City.

The way Street News works is that they publish and sell daily tabloid-style newspapers to homeless individuals for a small up front fee. Then the homeless people sell the papers on the street or subways for the retail price and get to keep the profits. Therefore, rather than panhandle, they have a job selling newspapers and people were much more willing to buy rather than just hand out spare change for nothing in return. Even better, many of the articles are written by the poor and homeless who sell the paper which helps give a voice and face to their plight. However with the recent proliferation of free daily newspapers readily available at every street corner in New York City and the ever increasing rise of digital papers, the "homeless" papers and street sellers have lost their cachet.

Seeing a looming need to replace these newspapers with the next new innovation, an Austin, Texas-based homeless advocacy group Front Steps partnered with a New York City-based advertising firm Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty, to create "Homeless Hotspots". The new idea was to give homeless people mobile hotspot units and tee-shirts like the one in the photo. They could roam the parks and public areas and offer wireless network connections to tourists and anyone in need of an internet connection for a small fee. So with hardware in hand, the first 13 "homeless hotspots" were introduced at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin in March. If the idea proved successful, they would next be rolled out in New York City.

Well, as you can imagine, everyone across the nation weighed in including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post, and the overwhelming opinion was negative. One woman was horrified that human beings would be degraded to the function of mere wireless network access points. As a matter of fact, about the only people who thought it was a great idea were the first 13 homeless "hotspot" men. They thought it was great. Clarence, the man in the photo above who considers himself "houseless" rather than "homeless" said it gave him a chance to interact with many different people and the chance to make an honest living at a real job.

Frankly, I was one of those who, when I first read about this, I thought it was a terrible idea. But after I thought about it awhile and read more about it, I changed my opinion. For the record, Homeless hot spot idea* has been discontinued, but what do you think?

Question: Do you think this is innovative or exploitative?

*You can read a brief biography of each of these thirteen men on this link.

34 comments:

LawHawkRFD said...

Am I allowed to choose "both?" These people are actually providing a service for those who are looking for a hot spot but don't want to travel to the nearest stationary spot. On the other hand, if they feel exploited, perhaps the embarrassment of being exploited would be overcome by the benefits of working for a living rather than waiting for handouts. Of course, the left considers anyone who works for a living to be an exploited victim.

Tennessee Jed said...

if I am to be perfectly honest in answering the question, I'd have to say I don't care one way or the other. I have nothing against it as long as I'm not asked to pay for it.

BevfromNYC said...

LawHawk - I think "both" is appropriate. If someone feels they would be exploited, then I am guessing they wouldn't participate.

Like I said, when I first read this I was horrified, but then I thought about it and thought "why not?". Of course it would all hinge on who participated. If they used the really hardcore drug addled homeless, then it wouldn't work. But from what I read about these first 13 men, they were all recently down on their luck guys in need of a job.

And frankly who says that I can't use my recently-acquired mobile "hotspot" that comes with my newly-acquired cellphone to make a little extra dough for myself? I mean, Zuccotti Park is just across the street and there will soon be plenty of OWS 99%'ers who need to power their New IPads...

AndrewPrice said...

I'm with Jed, I don't really care. It's hard to call anyone exploited when they do something voluntarily.

In DC you saw homeless and kids selling newspapers on streets all the time. They walk walk back and forth at red lights and sell to people who didn't even have to get out of their cars.


As an aside, let's hope Santorum loses in Louisiana today and then maybe we can finally be done with this futile BS, and then they can put Rick back into the box of fruitcakes from whence he came.

CrisD said...

Hi all-
This is a subject very near and dear to my heart as the "homeless" person in my life has a mental illness- yes, a clinical mental illness- and wants to work and remain independent although he cannot fend for himself. Please consider that this is the situation in a percentage of situations. Imagine if you can, for one minute, that you do not fully understand your limitations (and in fact do not ASK for help yet you NEED it).

My response to the question is: yes, it sounded like a good idea as WIFI can be a way to stay in touch with relatives who are frustrated in being able to help out. There are no easy ansers and this part of my lie is a mess as you just can't fix anything.

A good reason to go to church :))))))))))) Thanks for listening

AndrewPrice said...

Hi Cris. My understanding is that a huge percentage of the homeless do have mental illnesses. And a lot of them don't know they need help or won't believe it. It's sad. A lot of states have started allowing the state to lock people up when they need help, but it's still not a well-thought system.

CrisD said...

Thanks, Andrew,
Yes, exactly. He can and does work but has times when he can't and the spotty work history hinders him from the stability that the rest of us can get.

There are no easy answers. In fact there may be no real answer. The worst thing they ever did was make rules about letting people out of facilites without medication. We are currently working on getting him to accept once a month injections. But of course we can do nothing to "make him" take them. He will not accept disability as he believes that there is nothing wrong with him.

Sorry. I could go on and on. My only point is that I am not looking or a handout for him--just an organized way to help. The social worker is fantastic and works as hard as she can to let us aid him privately rather than thru public funds. They have hope that the meds and maturity will help him gain a modicum of stability.

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, I've known several mentally ill people through my practice and getting them to take their medication is a universal problem. Most are fine so long as they take the medication, but they resist it or they forget and soon things fall apart again.

I agree about the law. That was something they did in the 1960/1970s which was a disaster -- letting all of these people who need help free into the streets. That policy has hurt a lot of people, and they still haven't really fixed it. In some places you can't lock people up at all unless they commit a crime. In others it's only for 24 hours. Etc. And even when they do lock people up, the care is suspect. It's a bad system all around.

tryanmax said...

Of course they would think putting homeless people to work providing a useful service is exploitation in the city that bans food donations to homeless shelters.

BevfromNYC said...

CrisD - You are right there are no easy answers especially for someone with mental illness. I've had my own experience with a family member. The sad part is there is absolutely nothing anyone can do for someone who 18 yrs or over without consent.

CrisD said...

On one final note tonight, may I say that I have watched this young man go from valedictorian (with almost perfect SATs) to a lost soul. We dragged him over the finish line to graduate from college (his IQ was thru the roof so he somehow managed to graduate in six years of off and on hospitalizations).

But most people would look at him and dismiss him as a bum. It kills me.

The reason why I look at the question of whether we should try these ideas as Bev puts it--is--are these really people who know of what they speak or are they "politically correct do-gooders" who wouldn't know a desperate family if they hit them between the eyes!

I have worked on legislation with families in North Carolina. The program I support and use is one which tries to keep do early intervention and keep the families involved.

And on that note I will let you all go... :)))))

BevfromNYC said...

Tryanmax - How did I miss THAT??? I am now sending a letter to His Imperial Highness to voice my disgust. Has he gone completely out of of his freakin' mind??? Let's let homeless starve because they might get too much salt and calories. Of course who will monitor the trashcans that they eat out of??? My mind just expoded...AAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!

BevfromNYC said...

CrisD - Please go on. You are facing what so many people are facing, but won't talk about. My family member was also brilliant, but also suffered from a late diagnosis of manic depression. And it was complicated because he was so brilliant - he knew better than anyone else. Like I said, it is impossible to do anything for an adult without their consent even if it will help them.

T-Rav said...

This actually reminds me of something that came up in a class of mine a couple weeks ago. We were discussing a controversy some time ago in a Berlin zoo, which had an African exhibit that included a man of African descent, dressed up in tribal clothing and everything. Now, if I were running the zoo, I would not have put a black guy in the exhibit, much less dressed like that, because--well, at the very least it seems in VERY bad taste. At the same time, having been done, it gives some guy a job (and it's just as likely this guy is a university student or even a citizen as an impoverished immigrant). A conservative friend of mine in particular was thrashing it out with a rabid leftist about whether or not this was exploitative, which ended with my friend flipping him the bird. It was as entertaining as it was awkward.

Long story short, if the homeless people doing the advertising don't have a problem with it, then I don't either.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Let me challenge your assumption... would you say it's bad taste to hire someone to dress like a colonial American? If not, why should it be bad taste to dress someone up like a tribesman?

I know people will get bent out of shape about the one and not the other, but why should that be the case?

CrisD said...

Thanks, Bev-
It is an "invisible illness" because as our family has found, we cannot reveal much to others without intense predjudice. Our family member is gentle ( can be agitated when facing hospitalization but only overly excited and laughing/crying intermittantly) yet people make all sorts of terrible assumptions and we don't like revealing things that would prevent him from employment. He is employable most of the time. He is growing more distant as his best friend is at Harvard medical school and another good friend is an engineer in NYC. He loses touch with all the normal, achievers with each passing year. Hospitalizions are awful because he meets people worse off that drag him down (they give each other phone numbers.)

We give him small increments of money because one of the hallmarks of his illness is not being able to handle money (ironic someone who got 5's on his APs in math but that is what happens when an illness renders one with no perspective).

We had always thought it was manic depression but think it may be a blend of manic and schitzophrenia called schizo-affective. None of these names matter as the bipolar he had and schitzo-affective get the same medicine.

If he could get disability, they would subtract earnings from anything that he was given, so that he could still have the dignity of working. But he writes poetry and thinks he could be an artist if he were given the chance, so it is awfully hard to get thru to him. I tell him he needs to have a job and he can still write. This makes me want to cry. Because he does write some beautiful things and I love him. It is just tragic.

Thanks, Bev. And Tryan...if they had a Cheetos /Fritos day for treats I would say.. "let her rip!!!" As long as they had to take the meds to get 'em... Just kidding (kinda)

BevfromNYC said...

CrisD - I am interested in more information on the kind of legislation that you have been lobbying for. This issue is much more prevalent than people realize.

AndrewPrice said...

Santorum won Louisiana, and now he's pretty much out of states he can win, though he has a shot at Pennsylvania (though my PA sources say he won't win there).

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, Sorry to hear about that. Mental illness is a real problem which unfortunately does not get the honest attention it deserves. Too many people claim false mental illnesses to get benefits, too many people want to use the mentally ill as political footballs, and (frankly) too many people still don't believe mental illness is real. I think there are many reasons for this, but the biggest is the inability by professionals to separate out those who really do need help from those who are simply looking for an excuse. And that has really tragic results for the people who truly do need help.

It would be nice if we could look at this objectively, just like we look at physical illnesses objectively, but that's not something our society is good at.

T-Rav said...

Well, Andrew, I know what most people would say; they'd say colonial Americans were never enslaved (the white ones, at least, but that goes without saying), so it's not the same. Anyway, I'm saying if it's my zoo, I wouldn't do it, whereas I probably would dress someone up as a colonial. Just a personal judgement call.

T-Rav said...

Cris, sorry to hear about your troubles. That kind of thing sucks--I don't have anything like that, though I have had to deal with a few emotionally unbalanced people before. I can't really say or suggest anything, but I do wish you and yours all the best with that suggestion.

T-Rav said...

"suggestion" should be "situation." Don't watch TV and type at the same time, T-Rav....

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, There's no doubt people would flip out and it wouldn't be a good idea. I'm just pointing out that it's a rather bizarre distinction.

DUQ said...

Andrew, do you want to bet Monday all the talk will be about the big victory in very-representative Louisianna and how this means Santorum still has a chance? I can almost write the opening line for someone like Laura Ingraham:

"So much for inevitability."

tryanmax said...

DUQ, I await Monday morning with morbid curiosity. I don't know if RWR will go with the "so much for inevitability" meme, but I fully expect them to congratulate the people of Louisiana for "seeing through the anti-Santorum spin" (read: to"tally buying the pro-Santorum spin").

The big positive I see potentially coming out of this is that Ricky may decide he is "gaffe proof" and will speak his mind even more freely than before. While I don't expect him to come out in favor of chastity belts and arranged marriages, I do believe there are less deranged ideas swimming around behind his beady eyes that he may delude himself into thinking will resonate with the American electorate.

I do not, however, think there is anything in the world short of hydrochloric acid that can wipe that $#!+ eating grin (which I am so sick of seeing) off of his shiny face. And even that may only prove to enhance it.

tryanmax said...

to"tally" should be totally. Misplaced quotes.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax and DUQ, I'm not sure what RWR will say on Monday, but I'm sure it will be wrong. They'll probably go with the "this is still a race and don't let the establishment tell you otherwise." Yes, don't trust the establishment with their math and science and facts... bah! It's witchcraft!


His grin truly is annoying (as is his shiny robotic skin), so is his whining. All he does is whine. WTF?!

On being gaffe proof, that would be good. I want to see him implode fully before someone gets the idea of running him again in the future. And don't be too surprised if he does advocate arranged marriages -- his version of Christianity is remarkably similar to Islam.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, maybe Santorum is a robot. The whining could just be servos.

Tam said...

I read an interesting article recently by Malcolm Gladwell (Million Dollar Murray) about homelessness and how to solve the problem. It made the case for housing homeless people, pointing out that just providing apartments for most of the homeless is more cost effective than other programs, and how people like the Murray of the story can be successful to a significant degree with mimimum cost and effort compared to emergency room care and the cost of running shelters. The problem comes from the public perception of rewarding deadbeats and the other side of the coin, not providing the same benefits for every homeless person. There are no easy answers, and I do wish there was a way to truly help those who need help without enabling abusers of the system. So if a person doesn't feel taken advantage of, I say let them make money being a hotspot. Why not?

On Ricky the Wonder Boy, I dreamed last night that he conceded he had no chance and dropped out. Alas, I woke up to reality. Next week will hopefully put a nail in this race and we can all move on. Ugh.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That could be. And that might explain the sweater vests too as scientists rarely have much fashion sense.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, That's the real problem -- these programs are overwhelmed by the lazy and the malingerers. One of the things you learn quickly as a lawyer is just how messed up "the system" really is. The people who really need help get the shaft while the people who are faking get everything they want because liars and cheats are better at working the system than people who genuinely need it. It's disgusting.

And as long as the system isn't capable of sorting this out, most taxpayer don't like the idea that they are paying people who simply want to sponge off of them.

I think it would help a lot with the public if "the system" eliminated certain categories of things that are too easy to fake. For example, "bipolar" is a classic example. There are some people with severe bipolar disorder who need serious help. BUT then there are hundreds of thousands of people who get the diagnosis because it helps them get disability and the closest they come to having it is that they are jerks. In West Virginia, I knew HUNDREDS of people who got disability because they claimed to be bipolar and they were perfectly fine. They called it "the crazy check."

On the point you make about the cost of helping people, this is another example of a system that is just stupidly run. It makes a lot more sense to take in the people who need it, to get them care, train them, and help them get on their feet. But our current system can't do that because it looks at each piece in isolation and never deals with the whole person. So you end up wasting lots of money to treats various parts of the problem without ever fixing the whole thing, which ends up making the whole expenditure wasted.

It's also a problem of having a "value neutral" system in the sense that no one is allowed to do things like require the person to get of drugs, go to school, stop having kids, etc. etc. Many of these people truly need to be "reset" in all facets of their lives, but the system can't do this -- it can only apply bandaids.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I think the country is already turning away from Santorum. I think Jeb Bush's endorsement proved that because it means he's given up on the idea that there could be a brokered convention. So I think people are about to move on to new issues. Will talk radio? Not yet. But everyone else will.

If you want an example, think back to what happened with Romney after Florida in 2008. He was still in the race, but he got less and less coverage once it was obvious McCain had won. Santorum is in that phase now.

Writer X said...

I think it's a rather innovative idea. I don't see it as any different as someone going door-to-door selling a product. In fact, the latter is more annoying than the hotspot idea.

rlaWTX said...

when I heard about it, I thought it was perfectly Austin thing to do. No one was forced to participate.
Lefties need to get a little consistency - do we "marginalize" people by not "letting" them work OR are we "exploiting" people when we find something innovative for them to do?

Post a Comment