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The Homeless GoPro project is weak initiative for helping the homeless

By Stephen Friedland
On April 17, 2014

With a group of plucky, young volunteers, Kevin Adler, a 29-year old sociologist and entrepreneur, has created a project called "Homeless GoPro," which involves strapping a GoPro - a diminutive, hands-free camera typically used among intrepid athletes like skiers and mountain bikers - to homeless people in San Francisco.
The project has sought to, as its website puts it, "build empathy through firsthand perspective." On the site, homelessgopro.com, you can see a few videos of Adam Reichart, a former handyman who has been living in poverty for roughly six years, experiencing the day-to-day toil of neglect and anxiety as to when the next meal is going to come along. Reichart is but one of 6,500 living in shelters and streets across the city.
These videos certainly evoke poignancy. When Reichart asks people for money to stay in a hotel on his birthday and essentially ends up talking to brick walls all day, it's very sad and disconcerting.
Here's where the problem lies: Poignancy is completely derived from sympathy. Empathy implies an experience-based understanding with another individual, and as a middle-class white male whose toughest problem has been grappling with unresolved teen angst induced by the "throes" of suburbia, my thoughts couldn't truly extend beyond, "Wow, that sucks; I would absolutely buy him or a contemporary food if given the opportunity." I'm not Mr. Scrooge, I'd like to think - I usually give money to homeless people I see when I'm in Boston or New York and have volunteered at shelters - but I simply don't understand the struggle and won't unless I become homeless; a video series isn't going to change that. Even Adler and his affiliates, who talk to and see Reichart on a regular basis, don't truly understand.
Something I find ironic about this project is the fact that the likelihood its participants can actually afford a GoPro is very slim. Granted, Adler rationalizes this by saying "Why not use the same technology affluent young people use to capture (homeless people's) story...to build understanding?" The primary goal is to influence rich youths into helping the cause through a relatable technological lens with people like Reichart as POV vessels, but I actually think the GoPro format worsens the disparity between these two groups. The dichotomy of seeing an expensive camera attached to a homeless man almost has this vaguely condescending, guinea pig connotation to it. Reichart is very much complicit with the cause, but I think the imagery still resonates.
Another thing to consider is the tempestuous relationship big tech companies have with the people of San Francisco at the moment. With the advent of Google Glass and the tax breaks Twitter recently received, the general public is very much upset about these companies coming to monopolize so many facets of our lives. People like Kyle Russell of the publication Business Insider have had their Glasses stolen and thrown down on the sidewalk.
So what's to say this won't happen with the Homeless GoPro project? Especially with the volatility of the climate they're residing in, I think there's a high probability that those with GoPros strapped to their chests will either have them broken or stolen or both. It's really not a good idea to have a technology-based organization in San Francisco at the moment. Even if it's for a good cause, it's not going to be perceived well because of the connotation of the GoPro.
There's only so much you can do to help the homeless, and the impoverished aren't going away any time soon. The fact that Homeless GoPro is trying is very noble, and they are a strictly non-profit organization (or at least they claim to be on their website). However, trying to appeal to yuppies who can afford GoPros is going to provoke the same reaction as the people on the street: scornful neglect or "Wow, that sucks; I'd buy him some food given the opportunity." 


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