NYC programmer and self-proclaimed entrepreneur Patrick McConlogue caused a bit of a stir on a slow Wednesday when he wrote about his plans to offer a random homeless person $100 or the opportunity to learn how to code. Reactions to the 23-year-old McConlogue's post were swift and mostly negative: it was called "a truly ill-conceived social experiment," "degrading and horrible," and "ham-handed." Despite the naysayers, McConlogue went through with the experiment today—and while he may not have solved the homeless crisis, he did confirm that Leo the "Journeyman Hacker" is a real person with interests in "efficient public transportation initiatives."
For all of our cynicism around the experiment—particularly around McConlogue's naivety about his subject (he didn't learn Leo's name before writing the original post about him)—McConlogue is sincere in his desire to do something active for another human being. Homelessness is an ongoing crisis in NYC that has only worsened in the Bloomberg era: homeless families make up 78% of people staying in the city's administrative shelters, a number that has risen by 73% since Bloomberg took office, according to a report from Coalition for the Homeless.
No, McConlogue's coding project won't change that, but his willingness to engage with other people is commendable (even if his approach has been somewhat tone-deaf so far). Unlike other ill-considered social experiments, McConlogue is dealing with an issue that desperately needs more attention. In the end, it seems more important that he's willing to follow through on his big talk—and to try to use this as an opportunity to discuss the wider homeless epidemic—than the fact he's set up a Facebook page for Leo.