On BBH’s ‘homeless hotspots’

at 01:57 PM ET, 03/13/2012

A homeless man rests while panhandling on the street on June 20, 2011 in New York City. According to an annual report on the city's homeless population conducted by the Coalition for the Homeless, a record 113,553 people turned to shelters last year. This was an 8 percent increase over the previous year and is a 37 percent increase since 2002. (Spencer Platt - GETTY IMAGES)
BBH Labs is taking a fair amount of heat for giving homeless people portable 4G modems and $20 to wander around Austin as “homeless hotspots.” The participants also got tips from people using the service. It’s “like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia,” wrote Wired’s Tim Carmody. But I agree with Matthew Yglesias’s contrarian take:

Think about all the companies involved in one way or another in SXSW who did absolutely nothing at all for Austin’s homeless population. How much condemnation did they get? None. BBH’s stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer. The sin they’re being punished for is less any harm they’ve done to homeless people than the way they broke decorum by shoving the reality of human misery amidst material plenty into the faces of convention-goers. The polite thing to do is to let suffering take place off stage and unremarked upon.

On any given night in America, about 650,000 people are homeless.

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