Twitter and the Homeless

Sign of the times, I guess:

“Derrick Wiggins, 44, began his daily tweeting at 5:41 Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t about the quality of his French roast coffee or his favorite “American Idol” contestant.

It was to let his roughly 3,800 followers know that he had woken up safely in the New York City Rescue Mission, a drop-in shelter on Lafayette Street, and eaten breakfast there.

His next message, at 6:03 a.m., outlined his immediate plans: “It is going to be a cold day my plans are to minimize the amount of exposure to the cold by making use of the subway.”

Mr. Wiggins’s Twitter handle is @awitness2011, and the profile on his Twitter page explains that he is “tweeting from a prepaid cell phone.” It identifies him as “A native New Yorker and a Giants fan. Homeless.”

Mr. Wiggins is one of four homeless men who were given prepaid cellphones so that they could create a Twitter following, as part of a project started by three recent college graduates who are interns at the BBH advertising agency in TriBeCa.

“We had the idea to use social media to help out the homeless,” said one of the interns, Rosemary Melchoir. “One goal was to increase the interaction between homeless people and the community around them.””

There’s more at the NY Times, here.

Now, for an angry old codger, the first reflective response here might be  (grumbling with a furrowed brow) “What’s that homeless guy need Twitter for?  Why not give him something useful?”  However, I think it’s actually quite possible that the “connectivity” and networking that Mr. Wiggins achieves via this program could return much more value to him long term than if he’d simply been given $50 (or $100, or whatever – yes, I know that the article said $1000 for a program with 4 cell phones, but I think that also includes the advertising budget for the project) instead of the prepaid cell phone.  This guy has 3800 followers!  That’s no OchoCinco, but it’s a pretty solid number.  Is it unreasonable to think that a number of those followers might occasionally be happy to provide him with a meal, or a few bucks, or perhaps a job offer or a place of dwelling?

-KD

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