I saw the headline "Homeless at Harvard" in Sunday's Globe, so, like a sucker, I clicked on the story to read about Divinity School student John Frame's experiment with homelessness for this year's summer session. Basically, this 30 year-0ld who's working on his third Master's Degree and has plans for a doctorate is camping out in Cambridge Common and other spots around Harvard Square to try to understand the plight of the homeless. Or, maybe more accurately, to get 15 minutes of fame with a Globe story and a chance for a book deal someday.
To follow up on a piece I did last week about "Gotcha" journalism, which uses elaborate set-ups and hoaxes to try to prove how [insert synonym for 'reprehensible'] other people are, seeing the John Frame story made me realize how unimpressed and turned-off I am towards gimmicks like this.
Much like a person wearing a blindfold to experience blindness, or an aunt and uncle *borrowing* their nephews to understand parenting, John Frame isn't really going to ever be homeless during this experiment. At any moment, he can just walk away from his situation, which really makes him the total opposite of an *actual* homeless person resigned to his or her fate.
I think if John Frame were going to really sell all of his possessions, take a vow of poverty, and decide to actually live in the Great Outdoors -- to suffer through the harsh New England winters as well as its beautiful (albeit humid) summers, I would be more inclined to at least give him some credit for follow-through, even though I still don't know what it would prove.
But I just don't think this sort of stunt is going to help any actual homeless person. It may not directly hurt any actual homeless people either, so in a sense it's harmless.
But it still smacks of exploitation.