Homeless Man Turns Down $100 and Chooses Self-Reliance


If you were homeless and given the choice between a handout and a hand up, which would you choose?

Leo, a homeless man in Manhattan, made the self-reliant choice. He turned down $100, a generous handout, and chose a hand up instead.

Patrick McConlogue’s other offer, in lieu of the $100, was to give Leo a laptop, some how-to books, and personal instruction on how to write software and create websites.

McConlogue, a 23-year-old engineer, writes software code for a 35-person startup. But unlike the many other commuters who walk past homeless people in New York every day, McConlogue wanted to make a difference in one man’s life — one way or another.

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.

Granted, not everybody thinks this was the right offer to make. Critics say it’s shelter that will help a homeless man, not technology.

However, over 31,000 fans of McConlogue’s Journeyman Challenge Facebook page disagree. They recognize that skills like coding can be leveraged into something much bigger than a temporary roof over somebody’s head.

McConlogue blogs about the experiment on Medium, a sort of documentation of the good, bad and ugly parts of the journey.

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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