Homeless Man Learns to Code His Way Out of Poverty


Leo and Patrick

Whether or not we like to admit it we all have our perceptions of homelessness. Some of us feel so bad that we always give them food or money. Others will not even look at them. I personally have had some experiences with homeless people that have led me to what I now believe about them.

In this article found below, a man has given a homeless man the option of $100 outright or to teach him how to code. The homeless man, Leo, chose to learn how to code. I am simply amazed to see that people are against such an idea.

I don’t understand why people are against the idea of teaching someone a skill instead of giving them a handout. First off, Leo chose the training over the money. Secondly, IMHO the training will go much further than $100. Let’s just say that someone sees his coding and hires him on for a project or for something more. Sure the $100 is a sure thing, but if he works at it and has heart then he can potentially turn that training into a new life. Look at some of the greats of our time – Michael Jordan was told that he couldn’t play. It was his training and his heart that made him into arguably the best basketball player of all time. Numerous CEOs made their starts as nobodies – Bill Gates started as a dropout in his garage and made it work because he trained and he had heart. Nikola Tesla and other scientists were called crazy but their training and heart drove them to create things that we still use today on a daily basis.

And what about you? Have you tried to get a job lately? More than likely if you have then you have seen the “experience required.” If Leo just took the $100 then that wouldn’t have got him any closer to the required experience for him to be hired, to get the house, to get meals for the rest of his life, or to get his message sent out to the world about the environment. All that $100 would have got him was a few meals, a trip, or maybe something unconstructive such as drugs or alcohol.

People are comparing this to the “teach the man to fish…” story – and rightly so. If you give a man a fish… after he is done he has nothing – he still relies on you to fish for him. If you teach a man to fish then he now knows how to provide for himself.

In my experience there are two types of homeless – those who want the handout and those who want to be back on their feet. I think Leo is the latter. Shame on you who think it is a bad idea to give a homeless man a choice between a handout and a possible way out of poverty.

Patrick McConlogue is a lot like the many others working in the New York tech scene. Every morning, he walks to work, passing a few homeless people on the streets, and then spends the rest of his day at a computer, writing software code for a 35-person startup.

But the 23-year-old engineer didn’t think those two parts of his day had to stay separate. Earlier this week, he made an offer to one of those homeless men.

“I walk by a homeless guy every day on the way to work and I get this feeling every day that he is a smart guy — he has books and he writes,” McConlogue told ABC News. “I was trying to think of a way to engage him and help him.”

McConlogue approached Leo, a 36-year man who lives on the streets of lower Manhattan, on Thursday and gave him two options.

The first was $100 in cash.

“I figured that was enough for a ticket some place or a few meals, if that’s what he wanted,” McConlogue said.
The second option on the table was a laptop, three JavaScript books and two months of coding instruction from McConlogue.

After hearing the offer, Leo, who McConlogue described as very articulate and gifted, especially in on the topic of environmental issues, decided to take the coding option. “I want to spread knowledge and information about climate change and global warming,” Leo told ABC News in a phone interview facilitated by McConlogue.

Soon, McConlogue will deliver him a Samsung Chromebook with 3G connectivity, three JavaScript books, a solar charger for the laptop and something to conceal the laptop in. He will spend an hour before work every morning teaching him the basics of software coding.

McConlogue began documenting his plans to help Leo on the blogging platform Medium earlier this week and has seen a mix of reactions.

The technology community, in particular, was critical of his first post, which was titled, “Finding the unjustly homeless, and teaching them to code.” Many commenters criticized McConlogue for using the word “unjust,” which he admitted was a poor word choice.

Still, some writers heavily criticized McConlogue’s effort beyond that.

Techcrunch editor-in-chief Alexia Tsotsis said McConlogue was “tone-deaf” and that his plan demonstrated “a profound cluelessness about poverty and the disenfranchised.”

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias argued that housing, not coding, is the first step in fixing homelessness.

Then, Slate’s Will Oremus called him a “naive techie.”

“My thought is that technology will do a better job connecting him, in the long term, to what he wants.”
But along with the critics, there were those who supported his effort. More than 1,200 people have liked the “Journeyman” Facebook page McConlogue has set up about the project and he said he has even heard from some previously homeless individuals who see the effort as useful.

Leo himself, who is aware of the online chatter, said that he is understanding of the criticism. “It’s America, people have the right to have their opinions,” he said. “It’s the Internet, people have the right to post what they want. I agree to disagree.” When asked about housing Leo said that he thought “housing was great for people who want to be put in housing, for people who want and need it.”

Ultimately, McConlogue says he is offering what he can right now to help.

“Being able to code will help him do some of the things he wants to do,” McConlogue said. “The negative feedback is that you should give him housing and food. My thought is that technology will do a better job connecting him, in the long term, to what he wants.”

McConlogue plans to keep blogging about the experience on Medium and Leo himself will write the next post. He said he doesn’t have plans to do anything with the larger homeless community at this point, however.

“I’ve tried to build products for the many before, but I wonder if this new generation is building projects for the power of one,” he said. “I am going to do a really good job with this guy. I will learn from him, maybe even more than he learns from me.”


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