NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A high-tech controversy involving the homeless in Texas has New York City’s Public Advocate questioning its motives.
The advertising agency BBH Labs recruited 13 homeless people to help patch up wireless dead spots in Austin by giving them mobile Wi-Fi devices to carry in bags and T-shirts proclaiming “I am a 4G Hotspot.”
BBH Labs paid the homeless participants $20 up front and a minimum of $50 per day for around six hours worth of work as a “Homeless Hotspot.”
They also were given cash donations by those using the Wi-Fi. A spokesperson for the company said the project is akin to the homeless selling newspapers.
“I’ve swallowed my pride. At first, I was kind of embarrassed about it. Being homeless has changed me and [given me] a different outlook at life and on people,” one of the participants in Texas said.
However, the program has sparked backlash by some, who call it exploitation. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio believes the company’s motivation is suspect and doesn’t want the program brought to New York City.
“It’s one thing if a charity had come up with this idea. It’s a very different thing when an advertising firm that’s never been involved with the homeless to my knowledge suddenly comes up with this novel approach,” he told 1010 WINS.
He argued the program seems like the homeless participants are being treated like “property instead of people.”
De Blasio said that if the company really wants to help the homeless, they should do it some other way.
“Work with the people who actually understand the homeless and serve them every day. Don’t just pop up and declare this novelty, where you’re going to give them a chance to make some stray dollars by literally being Wi-Fi hotspots on the city streets,” he said.
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