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
Williams is an interesting figure who represents something far more than his own situation. And as more details come out about Williams, that becomes clear. He’s a product of that specific brand of fading industrialization that cities like Columbus have perfected over the last thirty years. A few years back, when Morgan Spurlock hosted the memorable reality show “30 Days,” he lived in Columbus, Ohio on minimum wage for a month. Spurlock gets beef for his Michael Moore-lite methods, but the truth is, the minimum wage episode was pretty on-point. We imagine Williams being in the background of that episode, thrown away by the society that let him down. And there’s the problem. There are lots of guys like Williams who were also in that scene, who don’t have his miraculous luck. Or the voice. We call them deadbeats. We criticize them for being dregs on society (looking at you, Fox News). Well, what are we doing to fix this? Enforcing drug laws? Citing them for trespassing? Ignoring them? For every Williams with a broken home life and no way to improve his situation, there are thousands of others. And we, as a society, should be asking why. (Now’s a good time to suggest donating to Street Sense. Help the homeless help themselves.) source