Problem: Youngsters Ignore Homelessness. Solution: the iHobo App?

Last Updated May 10, 2010 4:41 PM EDT

DePaul, a London-based charity, has launched "iHobo," an app in which a homeless person "lives" on your iPhone for three days, periodically nagging you for food, money and shelter. The device is intended to encourage young people to donate to the charity, whose average donors are over 65 years old.

Unfortunately, the device also tempts youngsters to abandon the poor bloke, who will sell his sleeping bag for drugs if you don't respond to his repeated entreaties for help. Eventually, according to a video (below) created by Publicis London, the iHobo cracks the glass of your phone in frustration at your indifference.

The unintended point here is that abandoning the iHobo might be more fun than responding to him (at one point in the "game," iHobo will wake you up at 3.24 a.m. with one of his demands for sustenance).

Management at DePaul seems dimly aware that they may have created something controversial. Their press release says:

iHobo is not intended to be a negative reflection on young homeless people. The application questions the labels that are often placed upon homeless people and the misconceptions that people have about homeless people, how they have found themselves in this situation and the options available to them.
But all the iHobo does is bother you for cash and food. Surely, after three days, the user is thinking, Why can't this guy get a job and leave me alone? The Publicis ad for iHobo also makes some strange arguments about homelessness. Users hold up cardboard begging signs expressing their reactions, which include:
I didn't have a clue it was for charity.

Walking past them is easy ... but when they're virtual it's real. Weird.

Hopefully, donations from young people will go up. If they don't, all DePaul will have done is make fun of homeless people rather than help them.