Article first published as Punishing the Homeless on Technorati.
No good deed ever goes unpunished. Whether originally expressed by Oscar Wilde or someone else, the truth of the statement is being demonstrated in the media right now over the Homeless Hotspot issue in Austin, TX.
The Good Deeds:
- Provide the needed Internet access to thousands of SXSW convention goers. Responding to the calls for service, BBH New York found a solution with a heart.
- Offer homeless people the prospect of earning money, connecting with people, and feeling self-respect and hope again. BHH invested equipment, mentorship, training, and created the infrastructure of support and publicity to enable homeless people to profit in this opportunity.
- Criticism levied upon BBH for duping the homeless with a “demoralizing” exploitation of their need to earn money.
- Deny the privilege of employment. Media pressure forced BBH to cancel the project 3 days early.
- Humiliation and victimization of the homeless at the hands of the media, not BBH.
The Critics Who Punished
CNN, held a righteous debate. While acknowledging that BBH’s opportunity may very well be the only way a homeless man might be able to “subsist for a while and sustain his life,” it was wrong to do so. The Washington Post questions morality saying, “If we cannot see the difference [between homeless selling newspapers vs. selling Internet access], then as a society we have truly lost our moral compass.” And then Fox News joins the mob with this statement about the logistics of the transactions with these homeless men,
“All you do is approach the poor rube, give them some money and then…stand near them…and answer your e-mail. You can talk to them, I guess.
Perhaps the media’s contempt for BBH is a reflection of its own reluctance to directly acknowledge the humanity of homelessness. It sure doesn’t sound like Clarence Jones feels exploited. Jones, a 54 year old man who became homeless after Hurricane Katrina, said, “Everyone thinks I’m getting the rough end of the stick, but I don’t feel that. I love talking to people and it’s a job. An honest day of work and pay.”
Becky Blanton, writer, photographer, global TED speaker, and former homeless woman questions the motives of the critics,
“What [the critics] don’t want to do is to actually interact with a homeless person. It makes them UNCOMFORTABLE. They’re at SXSW to have fun. To spend money. . .. To party. Homeless people on the street in any shape, form or fashion kill the buzz…”
Temporarily Without Zip Code
In the end, lacking a zip code and a job have sadly become a human condition. It is the reality of this growing condition that challenges us all to redefine the meaning of respecting another person’s humanity. Perhaps it takes letting go of our personal fears and ego to see the truth of it all.
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