The Homeless Problem

A British advertising agency, BBH, is piloting a project that has homeless people acting as wireless hotspots. Yes, seriously. The service costs two dollars per fifteen minutes of use and the proceeds apparently go to the vagrants, bums, and hobos themselves. While helping the homeless is surely an under-emphasized priority through most of the western world, this is not what I believe Jesus had in mind when he said “Love thy neighbour”. The full quote is actually “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. So, if you’re outfitted with a wireless proxy server too, then congratulations future-man, you’ve proven me wrong before I even get started. As for the rest of us mostly flesh-and-blood organisms, hopefully it’s apparent that there are problems with this concept.

First of all, it’s far too expensive. Two dollars for fifteen minutes of mobile internet access is outrageous. Considering that you can buy a coffee at any number of cafes for the same fee and use the net for free as long you can nurse your beverage (without the smell of an unbathed router), this business model has no real advantages. Of course, other than being there for when you get that need to Tweet, but realize that despite the fact you’re obviously an internet-junkie, you don’t have a data plan, and find yourself willing to do absolutely anything to share your current moment of inspiration before you forget it. A moment that will either be read with as much consideration as a subway ad for “philosophy school” or buried in the mass of things no one actually looks at because all people are really doing on Twitter is advertising themselves.

Secondly, you have to talk to street people. I don’t know about you, but I generally find homeless persons extremely depressing. It’s as if there is no hope for them, but the thought of just letting anyone die is too much to take in mainstream society. So, we occasionally feel the need to help sustain their misery by sparing some change. Or in my case, buying them food and giving them smokes. My money is meant for my vices!

… All accurate sarcasm aside, this is the only positive element of the ad campaign.

Growing up in the Annex, my mother and I (mostly her) had frequent conversations with one impoverished gentleman named Gill. Every Christmas, we would give him a fifty dollar bill and occasionally he and I would play two-person Tetris at a divey coffee shop that used to occupy the corner of Walmer and Bloor. In fact, he’s the reason I’m such a pro at the game today.

Gill was a local icon. He was well-read and had robust, provocative opinions on almost anything you could throw at him. People would often become enveloped in twenty-plus minute conversations standing in front of the little alcove where he would sit on a milk crate and chain-smoke. He was almost always chatting with someone, though that didn’t stop passers-by from going out of their way to pleasantly acknowledge him. Eventually, someone found him an apartment directly above his spot. Then sometime later, he stopped begging. From what I’ve heard, he moved on for the better. This is exactly why we should converse with those homeless around us who are coherent.

Just because someone has left the boundaries of what we’re supposed to consider sustainable living doesn’t mean they have actually lost their worth. The greatest discoveries in life come from digging in and seeking to dispel your expectations.

However, the purpose of BBH’s campaign is not to help engage the poverty-stricken with the hipsters that surround them. They are doing this because it grabs attention… It grabbed mine, that’s for sure… These “Hotspot Managers” (that’s literally what they’re called) are serving one purpose, which is creating buzz. In that regard, it has more than succeeded.

The best quote from the BBC article that inspired this rant (hyperlinked to above) is surely:

“My homeless hotspot keeps wandering out of range,” wrote one [skeptic] before going onto add [that] “by literally labelling the person as a ‘hotspot’, you are priming an affluent, iPad-toting public to think of that person as a commodity”.

Also, how do we know a given homeless person is a hotspot? Do they have a sign? (If I were one, I know where I’d place a sign that read “Hotspot”). Are there interviews to make sure that these quasi-people will make suitable routers? If they have tinfoil hats, will that interfere with signal strength? Has BBH finally uncovered a way to employ the schizophrenic? I can only imagine how much discomfort this will lead to if the project takes off.


(via Wikipedia)

There is more to say about this, but I don’t want to give BBH the free promotion and/or energy of thought. If anything, this whole collapse of decency has brought up an important question: What are people who don’t “contribute” to society worth?

In Canada, we pride ourselves on our ever-diminishing social support structures. We’re supposed to care about human life over tax-rates and know that there is always hope for those who are less-advantaged as long as we’re there to help them. But few see homelessness in such a light. Unfortunately, the majority feel that if someone doesn’t have a mental or physical disability, they have no business not working.

To all of us who preach what we practice, I say this: Whether or not there’s medication for what ails us, we’re all fucked-up. We create excuses for our own behaviour (dating crazy people because they’re great lays, for example) then make snap judgements about others because we don’t share their affliction (“I don’t understand why that bum doesn’t just get a job”). People often intentionally sabotage their sensibilities for their current desires. This leads us to avoid doing what we’re told and know we should so we can feel independent.

Working sucks, living doesn’t, and paying people to stay on the streets as a viaduct to our technological addictions doesn’t help them lead a better life. It only perpetuates “the problem”.

About Seamus Gearin

Séamus once found a $100 bill and gave it to the first person who passed by. He's regretted it ever since.

  • Francis Vachon

    “Pics by W.S. Rivera”????

    No. Pic by Francis Vachon, and atrociously vandalized by W.S. Rivera

    • Olivier Labbé


    • Seamus

      Hello Francis, we’d be happy to credit you if you can link to a source showing your original photograph.

      • Francis Vachon

        I don’t want a photo credit. I want the photo down.

        • Seamus

          I can appreciate that sentiment, and we will replace the photo at sometime this month. I do want to note that we don’t have to as it has been turned into a unique piece of work and that if you read the article, it is also used in a way that is meant to dispel common negative views toward the homeless. Regardless, we will honour your request.

          • Francis Vachon

            Re-read the Canadian Copyright Law. This does not meet the Fair Use. It IS infringement. Why do you want to wait? Just take it down and be down with this.

            (the positive message does not change anything on the fact that it is infringement)

          • Seamus

            It’s the feature image on the piece and we just need to find a suitable replacement. (We have not, nor do we profit on our pieces by the way). It will be taken down in due course.

          • Francis Vachon

            You can take it down. Or the DMCA will.

          • Seamus

            Francis, we will be taking it down (please see every reply before this). I just ask that you show a little patience, this conversation has occurred entirely in the past hour. I will leave a comment on this thread once it has been replaced.

          • Francis Vachon

            I did read. But you say “sometime this month”. This mean up to 27 days.
            I don’t care if it’s a “feature image”. It is MY image.
            I don’t care if you don’t make money (”
            (b) in a sum of not less than $100 and not more than $5,000 that the court considers just, with respect to all infringements involved in the proceedings for all works or other subject-matter, if the infringements are for non-commercial purposes.”)

            You obviously have the power to take it down now. No reason you should not.

          • Seamus

            You’re right, sometime this month was too broad. The article is 1.5 years old and no one was reading it until today, so I didn’t see a need to rush, but that was disrespectful. It will be replaced within 24 hours.

          • Francis Vachon

            Thank you.

          • Francis Vachon

            Also, may I suggest you take the time to review how you are using images on your website? I took the time to look over and you are using copyrighted images in pretty much every post. The fact that you are not making money is irrelevant in regards with the Copyright law.
            At the bottom of every page of this site can be read “© 2013 Provocative Penguin”.
            This is pretty ironic…

          • Seamus

            The pic has been replaced.

            There certainly was a misunderstanding in adaptation of copyrighted photographs into art on our part and we will surely review that. As a courtesy, it probably would be a good idea for us to confirm permissions with copyrighted photos that have been sighted.

            The copyright at the bottom of our site is in reference to the original content that our writers as artists produce. We do use photographs from around the Internet, but they are either always cited, used for satirical purposes (which is permitted) or sourced from free sites such as Wikipedia. The idea behind citing photos is to promote the creator, which is a lot more than the vast majority of Blogs do.

            I appreciate the irony you see is the Copyright at the bottom of our page, but we are simply a group of unknown artists/writers putting together a free blog(azine) for everyone to enjoy without getting paid a cent. Your time and energy might be better spent lobbying sites such as The Huffington Post, DesignTaxi, i09, or a plethora of other sites that blatantly rip-off (or “aggregate”) content and make a profit off it. In the case of HuffPo, they don’t even pay most of their writers despite making money off of them.

            Thank you for suggestions and I apologize for the mis-use of your photograph. I can assure you that we did not intend to cause you mental harm.

          • Francis Vachon

            Don’t worry. I go against the big guys. You would be surprise who I sued in the past. I do it so regularly that I give speeches to other photog to tell them how to protect their (c) and how to sue.
            I don’t (usually) go against small guys like you. But when when I asked to take it down and you started to play a game, I was pissed off and ready to escalate.

            PS: This did do qualify for satire nor Non-commercial User-generated Content for faire use.

          • Francis Vachon

            PPS: When I say I don’t go against the small guy, it’s because their is too much of them. This photo alone is infringed 72 times. Well… 71 now.. So you can understand what is the state of mind of someone reaching out to ask for a photo to be taken down.

          • Francis Vachon

            PPPS: “We do use photographs from around the Internet, but they are either always cited”