Bitcoin: Useful Homeless Technology or Hard-to-Access Fad?

Recently, WIRED magazine published an article by Daniela Hernandez called Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving on Bitcoins.  With their laptops, phones, a few apps, and free public wi-fi, these people, who are homeless, have found a way to earn some money for food and other necessities.

opengraphBitcoin is a digital currency that can be paid peer-to-peer, without a central government or banking authority.

Based on the apps and payment rates reported in the article and current exchange rates (which fluxuate widely), back-of-the-envelope calculations show that people can earn about $1 (USD) per day using these methods.  Hernandez also reports one man receiving $500-600 over a three-or-four month period, suggesting that bitcoin donations, rather than micro-work (small tasks any person with a web connection can perform), account for as much as 80-85% of his income.

So, does Bitcoin have the potential to be broadly applicable and useful when it comes to housing our homeless neighbors?  I’m doubtful.  The micro-work these folks are doing, though, raises some interesting possibilities.

I can imagine a pilot project, stand-alone or embedded in an emergency shelter, where a computer lab, training and technical support, and micro-work apps are combined to provide people the opportunity to earn money.  In fact, Samasource is already doing this in Africa and India, as described in Leila Janah’s TEDxTalk embedded below.

Would it work in the US?  In principle, I don’t see why not.  Even in practice, where I imagine the wage level would be a primary concern, we can see from the WIRED article that people here are working for similar wages (if not less!) to what Samasource is paying.

Maybe if a pilot got going, it could even impact the discussion of a living wage!  That’s the kind of homeless technology I’d like to help create; a platform that helps people start virtuous cycles in their lives.