News & Current Affairs
Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving on Bitcoins
Paul Harrison, Chris Kantola, and Jesse Angle, scrounging for bitcoins outside a public library in Pensacola, Florida.
Jesse Angle is homeless, living on the streets of Pensacola, Florida. Sometimes he spends the night at a local church. Other nights, he sleeps behind a building in the heart of the city, underneath a carport that protects him from the rain.
Each morning, he wakes up, grabs some food, and makes his way to Martin Luther King Plaza, a downtown park built where the trolley tracks used to run. He likes this park because his friends hang out there too, and it's a good place to pick up some spending money. But he doesn't panhandle. He uses the internet.
The park offers free wireless access, and with his laptop, Angle watches YouTube videos in exchange for bitcoins, the world's most popular digital currency.
For every video he watches, Angle gets 0.00004 bitcoins, or about half a cent, thanks to a service, called BitcoinGet, that shamelessly drives artificial traffic to certain online clips. He can watch up to 12 videos a day, which gets him to about six cents. And he can beef up this daily take with Bitcoin Tapper, a mobile app that doles out about 0.000133 bitcoins a day, a couple of pennies , if he just taps on a digital icon over and over again. Like the YouTube service, this app isn't exactly the height of internet sophistication, it seeks to capture your attention so it can show you ads, but for Angle, it's a good way to keep himself fed.
Angle, 42, is on food stamps, but that never quite gets him through the month. The internet provides the extra money he needs to buy a meal each and every day. Since setting up a bitcoin wallet about three or four months ago, he has earned somewhere between four or five bitcoins, about $500 to $630 today, through YouTube videos, Bitcoin Tapper, and the occasional donation. And when he does odd jobs for people around Pensacola, here in the physical world, he still gets paid in bitcoin, just because it's easier and safer. He doesn't have to worry as much about getting robbed.
Jesse Angle isn't your average homeless person. But he shows that bitcoin is changing the world in more ways than you might imagine. Some believe it could provide a major boost to the country's 640,000 homeless, not only in providing extra pocket change for those on the street, but by helping urban homeless shelters more quickly secure donations for hot meals, beds, and blankets.
Angle learned about bitcoin through Sean's Outpost, a Pensacola charity that has raised about $32,000 through a program that solicits donations in bitcoins rather than American dollars. So far, it has received donations from 25 different countries, and this has bought almost 16,000 meals for Pensacola homeless.
Bitcoin beats the shit out of regular money, says Jason King, the founder of Sean's Outpost. We've resonated so well with people because it's direct action. There's no chaff between donation and helping people. That could change, as regulators in the U.S. put the clamps on the use of bitcoin. But for now, in the world of the homeless, it reduces chaff in more ways than one.
Paul Harrison, after his computer loses battery power in the middle of a video game.
Jesse Angle says bitcoins are harder to come by than spare change shared by people walking down the streets. But there are other reasons for him to go digital.
It's a lot less embarrassing, he says. You don't have to put yourself out there. And unlike panhandling in Pensacola, using an app like Bitcoin Tapper won't put him on the wrong side of the law. This past May, Pensacola, where Angle has lived since April, passed an ordinance that bans not only panhandling but camping on city property.
Yes, you need a smartphone to earn bitcoins, or some other device that gets you onto the internet. But the homeless carry mobile devices more often than you might expect. Angle's homeless friends Chris Kantola and Paul Harrison also have phones, and they aren't unlike people living on the streets in other parts of the country. At San Francisco's Tenderloin Technology Lab a nonprofit that provides the city's poor and homeless access to computers, organizers say that many of its clients use personal phones to connect to the net. Android is the mobile platform of choice.
You also need power, but that's not that hard to come by. When Angle and his pals run out of juice for their phones, they walk from Martin Luther King Plaza to the local Pensacola library, where they can plug into outdoor outlets on the side of the wall.
The bitcoin system could become an equalizer for the country's homeless, a place where the stigma of living on the streets isn't as pronounced. Homeless people don't like to raise their hands and say they're different, says Mark Horvath, an advocate for using the internet and social media to help end homelessness. Nobody does. In the bitcoin world, they don't have to.
If you're homeless, the great thing about bitcoin is that you can set up a wallet without an ID or a street address. And once you start filling this wallet, there are plenty of ways of converting bitcoins into cash and food and other goods, all without identification.
After earning his money with apps like Bitcoin Tapper, Angle turns to another tool called Gyft, an Android app that converts his bitcoin reserves into gift cards for places like Papa John's pizza. He can then buy a pie online, have it delivered, and share it with Kantola and Harrison.
The next day, his friends might return the favor. They too have their own bitcoin wallets. We're kind of the homeless geeks, Angle says. We all got laptops and smartphones.
Angle converts bitcoins into a Papa John's e-gift card, which he uses to buy food for himself and his friends.
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...