The annual SXSW interactive conference in Austin is sometimes plagued with snail-slow internet speeds (when you can connect at all). But this year it’s been a little easier to find a wifi hotspot: just look for a homeless person. Yes, homeless people are now being used as wifi spots.

The marketing firm BBH has partnered with a local homeless advocacy group called Front Steps to make a small group of homeless men and women actual wifi hotspots. They’re outfitted with wireless internet devices and, for a small Paypal donation, conference-goers get internet access for as long as they want — and the money goes straight to the needy individual.

But the scheme has been met with a firestorm of criticism. The associated Twitter account, @HHSXSW, has been doing damage control as the hashtag #homelesshotspots lit up with thousands of detractors, many of whom feel the whole thing is demeaning to the very people it’s trying to help.

One of the homeless men involved, Melvin, said in an interview that he sees the silver lining:

I would say that these people are trying to help the homeless, and increase awareness. They’re trying not to put us in a situation where we’re stereotyped. That’s a good side of it, too — we get to talk to people. Maybe give them a different perception of what homeless is like. It’s all good.”

And in the video below, you’ll see another participant, Clarence, talk about the program in pretty positive terms, too.

What do you think? Is this offensive and “dystopian,” as the New York Times called it? Or is a win-win for everyone involved? Let us know in our poll!

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