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Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving On Bitcoins 403

An anonymous reader writes "Wired profiles a homeless man who's supporting himself primarily through Bitcoin. Jesse Angle, a former network engineer, earns small amounts throughout the day by visiting various websites that pay him to look at ads. He then converts it to gift certificates and uses the certificates to buy food. '"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.' Angle learned about Bitcoin from a charity organization called Sean's Outpost that wanted something better than PayPal for accepting donations over the internet. The organization has even opened an outreach center paid for solely with Bitcoins. Founder Jason King said, 'Bitcoin beats the s#!% out of regular money, We've resonated so well with people because it's direct action. There's no chaff between donation and helping people.'"
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Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving On Bitcoins

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  • Re:Why bitcoin? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:13AM (#44903077) Homepage

    Bitcoin has extra marketing value. People can donate Bitcoins rather than dollars, and they feel like they're somehow working outside "the system", as though the US government couldn't see or track what's going on. Really, the government can't track cash, either, but cash is old and familiar, where Bitcoin is new and exciting.

  • Re:Oh my god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:20AM (#44903145)

    Probably more of a failure in our mental health system. Also, young men are last on the list when shelters are overcrowded.

  • Internet Advertising (Score:3, Interesting)

    by beernutmark ( 1274132 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:23AM (#44903187)
    Yet another reason that internet advertising isn't the great value it is said to be. Those of us who are targeted by the ads are using abp and the ads are being watched by people doing so only for the cash.
  • by Fencepost ( 107992 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:42AM (#44903445) Journal

    We all know he could have a job at Wal-Mart, 7-11, or McDonald's within a few hours.

    It's quite possible that he could get such a job, though I don't know what the job market is like in Pensacola (I believe that's where the article indicated he was). That doesn't mean that he could afford rent somewhere - from the article, the main person being discussed became homeless initially after a multi-roommate apartment fell apart, and has bounced in and out of being able to afford a place since.

    The more interesting part of the article is that some homeless are now starting to use Bitcoin as a way to get around not having a bank account (hard to do when you have no fixed address, I believe). This ties in well with many low-income folks having (disproportionally?) good smartphones - they can do it because that's the Internet access they can afford, and if they actually have a contract they may be getting decent phones because they can manage the installments.

  • by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:58AM (#44903653)

    It's worse than that. Yes, you need some kind of an address to get a bank account thanks to stricter AML laws passed in the PATRIOT Act.

    However, if you spend a while in the cash economy, when you do get back on your feet many banks will refuse to take your cash as a deposit. Because they don't know how you got that cash, they are afraid of being considered money launderers by allowing you to deposit it. So once people fall out of the banking system it can be hard to get back in, which then in turn keeps these people down (and more likely to be criminals). All in the name of fighting the terrorists.

    By the way, the US government knows the power of being evicted from the financial system full well. That's why they're starting to enforce US law internationally even though they can't jail people outside their borders. Instead of jail the punishment they use is being blacklisted from the financial system and having all your bank accounts closed. If you're a middle class guy with a home, a mortgage, kids etc and one day banks stop wanting to deal with you because you pissed off the US, then you could find yourself on the street faster than you might think. After all, what are you going to do when your bank accounts get closed - take out your life savings and pension as cash?

  • "Homeless" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:58AM (#44903655)

    When I was younger - early teens to late teens, my father would volunteer with food banks, homeless shelters and with the handicapped (these would frequently overlap with the same people). This meant that I too would volunteer (whether I wanted to or not). Anyways, I would hear the same story a lot of the time about how through no fault of their own these people would lose their job, their house and cars and would have nowhere to go. They wanted help in the form of food, place to stay, etc..

    In my experience maybe 1/10 of these people were genuinely down on their luck and looking for help to start over. They would do what it took to get back on their feet. The other 9 merely paid lip service to this. They actually preferred to live on the street and continue the lifestyle of not being a part of "normal" society. We'd help these people get into a program where they have food/shelter and a step by step system to start managing their lives and getting a job - they'd leave the next day because they cant' handle or don't want structure in their lives. They want to be "free" and "independent" but at the same time don't want to have to make an equal contribution to society to pay back these resources they use.

    I look at this guy lounging outside a library with his laptop, drinking monster energy drinks and eating chicken pot pies. He's taking food stamps to support himself and yet he buys shitty unhealthy food that's way too expensive for someone on a restricted income. I got one thing to say to this guy and his friends, "Go fuck yourself!".

  • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:08PM (#44903753)

    We all know he could have a job at Wal-Mart, 7-11, or McDonald's within a few hours.

    You obviously don't know anyone who works in that segment of the economy. None of those places are "always hiring," and most have backlogs of resumes to go through. Worse, having a resume with a good job history on it is poison for low-end jobs, where people assume that you'll be jumping ship at first chance for a better job more in line with what you've done. Speaking from experience, no one wants someone with 7 years of development experience and a fresh law degree to deliver their pizzas.

    Plus, my friend who does work for Wal-mart? He'd be homeless too if he couldn't live with him Mom based on what they pay him in his eternally part-time position.

  • by dex22 ( 239643 ) < minus berry> on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:12PM (#44903811) Homepage

    A few bitcoin donations helped me make my mortgage payment last month, and I have a little left over. Things are picking up but it's still really tight. I had to have emergency dental surgery (blessed wisdom teeth) too... There is a point that you reach when you're desperate that you still feel the shame of begging, but the need overwhelms it.

    I'll just leave this here: 17S6drtGpJXer6qA5V6XhP3snasGWANBjc

  • Re:Oh my god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitalsolo ( 1175321 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:14PM (#44903821) Homepage
    For what? To sit at home and watch TV?

    I have no problem with the concept that everyone needs (deserves?) a basic income provided by society. I have a huge problem with the concept that they do not, in turn, owe society for that.

    Give them a basic salary and then choose what menial position the Bureau of Suggested (Forced) Labor deems is best for their skills. Maybe that is doing stupid shit on the internet, I don't know, nor care, but they damn well should be doing SOMETHING.

    Giving everyone 25k a year (okay, 40k a year in some places) to live, with no expectation that they will do anything other than convert oxygen to CO2 and reproduce is rather short sighted insomuch as it ignores the vast laziness of so very, very many people.
  • Re:Oh my god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:18PM (#44903863) Journal

    He's not "making" a living though. According to the article, he's actually living on food stamps and using bitcoin to supplement. Since he's not paying into the system, he's more of a drain than a benefit. I also assume he's doing it by choice and doesn't want to do anything more with his technical knowledge. Maybe he's just waiting for a position in management.

  • Re:Oh my god (Score:4, Interesting)

    by irving47 ( 73147 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:26PM (#44903965) Homepage

    I'm not sure what to think... I'm in Pensacola, and I'm seeing job listings for IT personnel that by all rights should be a minimum of 60K (VMWare Hypervisor and all other IT tasks, including database admin.)... Offering 30.

  • Re:Oh my god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:34PM (#44904091) Homepage

    No... the real left is thinking that a basic income guarantee is becoming very close to feasible. Perhaps not yet, but we are getting close to the point where the labor generated by people who work for either self fulfillment or access to luxury goods and services can produce enough wealth to provide every household with a basic income capable of covering rent, food and basic utilities.

    Not even we here in Norway which is about commie-red by US standards goes that far, in fact we just took one baby step away from socialism in the last election. The problem is quite simply that if people don't feel it pays off to work they won't. If they put the "basic income" too low, the poor can't actually afford to use it. It'll only become a cheaper way for the middle class to take a year off as many people dream of doing to fulfill some sort of self-realization but find too expensive. If they raise it too close to a low-end job, who really want to struggle eight hours a day in a dead end, physically demanding job when they can bum around and play video games? Because obviously we'd have to tax the shit out of people to pay for all this, so it's not like your pay would become your current pay + your basic income, that'd require us to create tons of money from nothing.

    Already we're seeing certain trends in welfare abuse, not directly fraud as such but people who try very hard to get disabilities claims or to keep their unemployment claims by not being very employable. Statistically we know these trends aren't real because we don't have the sickest population in Europe and our working conditions are very gentle compared to many other countries yet we have one of the highest disability ratios in the western world. It just doesn't add up. These are the kind of people who are already looking to get out of the job market, they'd all take basic income and never return. Recently we've had some changes to the pension system where you could elect to retire earlier for lower pensions and lots of people got out at 62 instead of 67. Really, all the signs point to that if people can get a living paycheck without working, damn many would get the hell out.

    Of course, the naive say that for each one that takes a year off a position opens up for someone else. That's not how it works, businesses aren't going to hire a dropout who is also now on basic income and probably happy with it just because they lost someone, they're not that desperate to keep the headcount up. If we decrease the talent pool, the jobs are just likely to disappear or move overseas. I think such a system would belly flop miserably but I'd be the first one on it, I'd see it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take a year off at a reasonable cost. I'm thinking I'm not alone in that respect, good luck replacing all of us from the ranks of the currently unemployed.

  • Re:Oh my god (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jeff Flanagan ( 2981883 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:45PM (#44904229)
    The problem with that is it encourages weird subcultures and cults to try to overbreed us all and take over the country without needing to support their members. They can grow their rural compounds without limit with the ever-increasing government income based on population growth.

    Conservatives have a ton of bad ideas, hysterical beliefs, and problematic behaviors, but I think they're right that if you give people a free ride, many will contribute nothing but mouths to feed and violence, and will be a drain on us all.

    I'd love to free up people's time and make having a job stop being a life and death situation, but if you give people the potential for a free ride, you start needing to add all kinds of regulation to stop abuse, and I see it needing to go as far as restricting parenthood to productive people, so maybe we're better off with the current situation.

    We've made some progress with the ACA, so jobless people don't have to die in the streets, and I think we should be happy with these small steps. Reforming prisons so they rehabilitate prisoners would be a good next step. We don't need to turn our whole culture and economy upside down with a completely socialist system at this time.
  • Re:Pathetic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Aaden42 ( 198257 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @12:50PM (#44904303) Homepage

    That comparison holds in the case where someone has a low income but at least has a home or some sort of environment where cooking is possible.

    If you’re living on the streets, where are you going to cook your ground beef or eggs? Where are you going to refrigerate them so that you can take advantage of the lower per-meal cost spread over the course of several days? That type of economy of scale is only possible with a certain minimum level of capital. Namely that required to maintain or maintain access to a kitchen, IE a “home”.

    Honestly, caffeinated sugar solution is a subjectively “good” choice if you’re broke and hungry. Granted, it lacks in protein, so long-term it sucks. Short-term, though, it gives you energy (sugar) and a stimulant boost (caffeine) which will tend to make you feel less hungry. You’ll be digesting your own organs before long, but at least you won’t feel “starving”.

    You’d be better off trying to find some pre-cooked or raw-consumable, shelf-stable (no refrigeration required) protein, but I’m honestly at a loss to name any complete proteins that fit those requirements that are cheaper than a McWhatever...

  • Re:Oh my god (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday September 20, 2013 @01:18PM (#44904651)

    It will cost more to supervise someone who does not want to work than it will to automate the job or hire someone productive.

    No it doesn't. If their job is to do an automated task, the task can have a built in quality control. If they don't meet a minimum standard, then they don't get paid.

    Example: My wife runs a educational website where teachers/parents can upload content. But before kids can access the content, it must be reviewed for inappropriate content (porn, profanity, etc). She uses Amazon's Mechanical Turk to hire workers to screen the content. 90% of the content is new, but 10% is randomly inserted content that has already been screened, and is known to be either be either appropriate or inappropriate. If the Turkers don't handle these tests properly, then their work is discarded, and they don't get paid .

    The workers she hires are from India, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. But never from America. I see no reason that welfare recipients shouldn't be put to work on tasks like this instead of munching potato chips in front of the TV.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan