Program turns Austin's homeless into hotspots


by ANDREW HORANSKY and photojournalist JOHN FISHER


Posted on March 13, 2012 at 1:09 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 13 at 6:15 PM

AUSTIN -- Dusty White is a living, breathing hotspot. At this year’s South by Southwest, he is carrying a 4G device in his bag, allowing the people around him to access the Internet.

On Monday, White offered the service to SXSW attendees along 6th Street and at the convention center. What they may not have known is that he is homeless.

“I swallowed my pride,” White said. “At first I was kind of embarrassed about it. Being homeless has changed me and given me a different outlook at life.”

The former car salesman is part of a pilot program called Homeless Hotspots. He earns $20 a day, plus cash, for anyone who logs online.

The brainchild of ad agency BBH, it is seen as a step up from the days when the homeless sold newspapers.

“To actually make eye contact and have a conversation with a person that you may not necessarily ever do is a nice way to start the program,” said Tim Nolan of BBH.

Austin’s Arch Resource Center put White and 12 others in touch with them.

“They get a chance to tell their story, to personalize their experience,” said Mitchell Gibbs of Front Steps, which operates at Arch.

Yet others see it differently.

One viewer on The KVUE Insider Facebook page called the program both “dehumanizing” and “distasteful.” Another wrote that it “sounds like we’re using the homeless.”

White says he does not feel taken for granted. He describes himself as a "people person," and said he simply enjoys being outside and making money.