Programmer's Plan to Teach Homeless Man Coding Draws a Gigabyte of Criticism

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Homeless man sleeps on a building ledge in Manhattan.
Talk about the law of unintended consequences: New York is in the middle of a homelessness crisis, with 50,000 people sleeping in its homeless shelters every night -- more than at any time since the Great Depression. In an effort to do his part to reduce that massive problem, programmer and entrepreneur Patrick McConlogue decided to give Leo, a homeless man whom he saw every day, a choice between $100 or free computer programming lessons.

That's when the onslaught of opinions began. McConlogue's plan, which he is documenting on his personal website, rapidly came to the attention of the national media and the blogosphere. Some writers praised his attempt, while others -- many others -- attacked it for being arrogant, short-sighted, and thoughtless. In fact, McConlogue was being buffeted by criticism before he'd even learned Leo's name, and before Leo had made his choice: the programming lessons rather than the cash.

To look at this from a citywide perspective, New York will spend $955.3 million in 2013 to take care of its homeless population.
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At the same time, it spends an estimated $168,000 on every prisoner in its penal system. (While the homeless and the imprisoned populations aren't interchangeable, there's a lot of overlap between them.) By comparison, McConlogue is spending a few hundred dollars and a few dozen hours of his own time to teach Leo a highly marketable skill. While one could easily argue that McConlogue's experiment is more than a little high-handed, it is also an attempt to help solve a small piece of a massive problem. And, for Leo at least, it could make a huge difference.

What do you think about McConlaugh's approach? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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