Why Did This Homeless Man Turn Down $100?


We’ve all heard the proverb about the difference between giving a man a fish or teaching him how to fish. Fast forward a few hundred years to 2013. “Give a man $100 and he can buy something. Give a man a laptop, JavaScript books, and two months of private coding classes…” 

And that is exactly what Patrick McConlogue, a 23-year-old engineer, did.

McConlogue passes Leo every day on his way to work in Manhattan. There was something about Leo that told McConlogue he was smart. Maybe it was the books or the notes he had seen Leo reading or writing. Earlier this week, he made Leo an offer. First, he offered Leo $100. Then he offered Leo a second option: a laptop, three JavaScript books, and two months of coding instruction. Leo, who is passionate about environmental issues and wants to spread the word about climate change, took the second option.

The Facebook page that McConlogue set up has about 1,200 likes, but some people in the tech community were downright hostile. Alexia Tsotsis of Techcrunch called McConlogue “tone-deaf” and that he was clueless about poverty and disenfranchisement. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias said housing is more important, and Will Oremus called McConlogue a “naïve techie”.

I think it is these three who are shortsighted and missing the point. Going back to the updated proverb, what are the odds that after two months, Leo will be able to get an entry-level coding job? A job that will give him a greater sense of self-worth, allow him to find a place to live and not rely on the government handouts that Tsotsis, Yglesias, and Oremus appear to want Leo to have to depend on.

Who’s got the smarts? Leo said, "It's America, people have the right to have their opinions ... 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."

Millennials—actually, all generations—have a positive example in McConlogue, who 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."