When I first heard of this story, I was horrified, but I’m at least (partially) relieved by the backlash.
At this year’s SXSW conference, a marketing company called BBH Labs paid 13 homeless people to walk around the conference providing people with an Internet connection. Their T-shirts bore their name and re-classified them not as persons but as wireless transmitters.
“I’m Clarence, a 4G Hotspot.”
No, he is Clarence, a human person, made in the image and likeness of God. His home was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. And despite the best efforts of government agencies like FEMA or private organizations like Catholic Charities, he remains homeless seven years later.
One commentator is frustrated by people who object to using poor people like this. He said, “This backlash almost ensures that it will expire in Austin. Is that the goal we were aiming for, to have fewer options to help the homeless?”
If that option is undignified exploitation, then it’s not really an option. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity, especially those who are suffering the most. We must refuse to accept that the myth that the only way to help poor people is to objectify them or commodify them.