Earlier today, shortformblog defended its moral compass in describing the enlistment of homeless people to follow visitors to SXSW around as human 4G hotspots - for $2 - as cool, innovative and well-intentioned. Turns out that the people behind the initiative aren’t some charity, but the New York branch of the global advertising agency, BBH.
Since then, we’ve stayed interested in the homeless issue. One particular aspect we find intriguing is Street Newspapers, which are print publications created and sold by homeless populations as a form of entrepreneurial employment. The model has proven successful enough to be adopted in cities spanning 30 countries. The issue however, is that like any print publication, these newspapers are under duress from the proliferation of digital media. How often do you see someone “buy” a paper, only to let the homeless individual keep it? This not only prevents the paper from serving as a tool for the individual to avoid begging, but it proves how little value people actually place on the publication itself. Yet the model isn’t inherently broken. It’s simply the output that’s archaic in the smartphone age.
So we decided to modernize it.
The organization has previously worked with homeless organizations, last year creating the Underheard in New York program, which gave the homeless a voice on Twitter. There is room to improve the basic idea behind this, but let’s be fair; this is not a new endeavor for them. Organizations have charitable arms, and this affiliation was clearly noted in the original post. I’ve long been a defender of the street newspaper model as a way to help the homeless get on their feet. When I saw the story this morning, I looked at it through that prism. Ultimately, the issue remains the same: How can you help the homeless and give them a way to sustain themselves, to pick themselves up? Perhaps this isn’t the idea that solves the problem; let’s use it instead as a jumping-off point to think of a solution. — Ernie @ SFB