As winter begins, it's hard to see how anyone could be against donating jackets to the homeless. But HoboJacket, a website started by MIT students Jin Pan and Cathie Yun, has found a way to make even that simple act of charity controversial. HoboJacket asks you to donate money that will go toward the purchase of jackets sporting the logo of the college you hate most. Those jackets will then be donated to the homeless, who will show "the true value" of your rival college's degree by wearing the logo in public. "Donate your rival college's jackets and shirts to the unfortunate because it's terribly unfortunate that people actually went to that other college," implores the website. Is this a clever way to inspire charity, or an offensive stunt that exploits the homeless?
HoboJacket is disgusting and offensive: "Listen up, Yun and Pan, here's some advice," says Laura Beck at Jezebel: "Being homeless already carries enough social shame, it doesn't need your help." The site's primary impact is "contributing to the overall level of sniggering disgust that permeates how many college educated folks think about the homeless, and that's not funny — it's repugnant."
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But HoboJacket could actually do some good: It's hard to argue with results, says Chase Hoffberger at The Daily Dot. The website "has already facilitated the donations of more than 660 jackets to the needy," with more donations rolling in all the time. In the midst of the brewing controversy, Pan has said that he's considering shutting the site down, but "politically incorrect as it may be, let's at least hope that Pan decides to keep HoboJacket open through the cold months of winter."
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There are better ways to help the homeless: Look, says Eric Randall at Boston Magazine: For anyone who feels queasy about this, there's an easy way "to acknowledge the good intentions behind HoboJacket without wrapping a homeless person in the punchline to your elitist joke". Just "ex out the HoboJacket tab and go donate a coat to the homeless that doesn’t have a college logo attached."
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Update: Since this story was published, Hobojacket has been taken down, and its creator has posted an apology. Read it here.