The Death of the Street Newspaper, the Rise of Human Wifi?

Newspaper vendor, Paddington, London, February...

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A sign advertising the Homeless Grapevine, a s...

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Street newspapers, sold mainly by homeless individuals, have become common since the founding of New York City’s Street News in 1989. Some have been written and produced by homeless contributors, while others cover mainstream issues and pop culture in an effort to gain broader readership and raise more funds for their homeless sellers. Street newspapers can provide work for homeless individuals—if not living wages—and increase awareness of homelessness among people who purchase them.

Mark Horvath points out that street newspapers also offer an alternative to panhandling for many—and an alternative, more positive interaction with homeless men and women for passers-by, which has the potential to change the way the average citizen perceives homelessness. A recent charitable innovation initiative by BBH New York called Homeless Hotspots says it seeks to modernize this model in the face of declining newspaper sales by hiring homeless individuals as “hotspot venders” carrying 4G hotspot cards. At the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas where this initiative took place, homeless men and women charged passerby at “pay-as-you-wish” rates for access to their Wi-Fi connections.

Critics object that the effort was dehumanizing—the t-shirt slogan runs “I’m Clarence, a 4G hotspot,” supposedly equating homeless men and women with wifi. But as many of you know, being homeless in our society is already a dehumanizing and degrading experience—and whereas paper news used to be the voice of the people, now more of us get news online. Where does that leave the homeless? I’ve heard many people complain about homeless men and women with smart phones, as though these neighbors have no right to be heard in our modern media landscape. Perhaps critics haven’t done the math, and realized that it costs about $100 for a basic smartphone, and $50/month for unlimited data, whereas in Silicon Valley “cheap” studio apartments are going for more like $1,300/month. A smartphone—in lieu of a laptop computer—is no longer a luxury good, in the age of email. It’s even less so for somebody without a fixed physical address at which to receive snail mail.

Whether or not you agree with the Homeless Hotspots’ bold idea, it’s obvious that the world of media and news is changing rapidly. Our question is, where does that leave our homeless neighbors?

Leave a comment, and let us know what you think. How can we come together to make sure the voices of the homeless are heard?


About K.A. Erickson

I worked with Housing 1000 ( from August 2011 until July of 2012 as an Americorps VISTA member. I am the ghost of Katherine past! I wrote a couple interviews to post automatically even after I left--from beyond the grave, as it were. ;) My current blog talks about fiction writing, world travel and other adventures:
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7 Responses to The Death of the Street Newspaper, the Rise of Human Wifi?

  1. Great point. How can you degrade the already degraded?

  2. No offense Ms Erickson, Ok who am I kidding take great offense if you like But I believe By this Post you still are writing fantasy, understandably so as you work for housing 1000 a if you will subsidiary of the brainchild 100k homes. the same 10yr plan to end homelessness that has been shoved down the american tax payers throat for now almost 2 decades, Housing 1000 is simply another 501c3 which was set up as another feeding station at the public troth. over 60 people last year died in santa clara alone while suffering from homelessness, a city where homeless services Organization stood behind the passing of ordinances that outlawed even the act of asking for food or a little spare change.
    claiming you and other org’s like you can house someone for less than it cost to keep a person on the streets. when in fact people are only housed through HUD project Housing Or as you call it public housing which is limited and cost an average of 180,000 dollars per one bedroom unit to build with no cost overrun. and exceeds this cost in the south bay by an average of 12.7 percent.
    So as to your post, yes we the Homeless expect you to side with the further exploitation of Us, which is truly what this Hotspot scheme is.and as to BHH’s marketing interest they make money off of the devise itself. so instead of trying to turn us homeless people into routers figure out a way to cut down housing1000’s administration cost of 68% and help solve this plague because nobody Like myself who has ever sold a streetnews paper has ever made a living wage at it. If you want a way to further the lives of the homeless be there the next time santa clara is arresting one of us on the el-camino real for asking for a burger!

    • K.A. Erickson says:

      Dear Sir,

      Housing 1000 is not a 501(c)3 nonprofit, but a community campaign to house 1,000 chronically homeless men and women by 2013. We’re using existing resources, including those provided by HUD and other government programs, in a coordinated effort to end homelessness in Santa Clara County. Please note that we were not and are not advocating for the “Homeless Hotspot” program, merely for a discussion on the potential for technology to transform the way our society addresses poverty. For more information on cost studies, please see our website:

      Thank you for your comment. Please note however that any further personal attacks on myself or other members of my team may cause your notes to be moderated.


      Katherine Erickson

  3. I am a homeless vet and have a laptop that is my only means of communication with the outside world. It does amaze people that a homeless person would have a laptop. I have managed to keep my laptop over the last 5 plus years. It was a gift to me from a friend so that I could communicate with the world. This person did this out of the goodness of their heart. I have thanked this person more times than I can could for this precious gift. Being logged in and logged on has helped me through the years keep my sanity and hopes up that things will get better. Many of my homeless friends have told me that they wish they had a laptop. Don’t look look down on us, the homeless, who happened to be logged on and logged in to the electronic world. We are not the mindless dolts or drug/alcoholic addled. I am in my mid 50’s and am glad to be logged on the world!!!!

  4. says:

    I truly appreciate your work, Great post.

  5. Pingback: Interview with Frederick Ferrer, CEO of The Health Trust | Housing 1000 Official Blog

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