New York

NYPD releases homeless coder after arrest in time for Today Show interview

Above: Journeyman Leo during his Today Show interview.

Image Credit: Journeyman Facebook

Breaking the vicious cycle of homelessness is hard enough, without getting arrested.

Fortunately “Journeyman” Leo was freed yesterday morning, after his Monday arrest by the NYPD for trespassing, and made his interview with the Today Show this morning.

The tech community has closely followed Journeyman after a 23-year old software engineer named Patrick McConlogue began teaching him to code, and blogged about the project on Medium. 

“Every day walking to work in New York City you will see the homeless. Some mentally gone, some drunk, some just making a wage begging,” McConlogue wrote on Medium. “However, I like to think I can see the few times when it’s a wayward puzzle piece. It’s that feeling you get when you know the waiter, the cashier, the janitor is in the wrong place—they are smart, brilliant even. This is my attempt to fix one of those lost pieces.

McConlogue decided to offer Leo two options — $100 in cash, or three JavaScript books, a basic laptop, and personal tutoring from McConlogue.

Leo chose to code.

Over the past two months, Leo learned about functions and variables in JavaScript, signed up for Github, started developing an app, and received spades of attention from the media.

Then he was arrested for sleeping on a park bench in a park that was closed to the public.

“This morning 20 minutes before I got there to start the lesson the Police arrested Leo for trespassing. I am down at the 10 precinct now to explain everything and get him out,” McConlogue said.

McConlogue called on his social network to comment, like, message, and engage with the story to help get Leo out.

Early reports were grim, with the possibility of holding Leo for weeks. However the community outcry, phone calls to the police, and high profile nature of the case (he did have a Today SHow appearance to make, after all) convinced a judge to release him on Tuesday morning in an “incredible turnaround time.”

McConlogue posted on Facebook that the police were polite and did nothing wrong — they were just doing their job. And Leo was able to make his Today Show appearance.

This is yet another story about the growing relationship between the homeless and tech communities.

Unemployment rates soared during the recession, but software developers remained in high-demand. It is a desired and lucrative skill set, and one that is increasingly accessible thanks to online tutorials and the proliferation of “learn to code programs.”

However the economic downturn also exacerbated homelessness in the U.S.. AP found that four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. Once you get in the cycle of homelessness, it is hard to break out.

Teaching the homeless, or people on the brink of homelessness, to code (or other tech skills) is seen by many as a way to “teach a man to fish,” in modern terms.

Other examples include Marc Roth, a homeless man who picked up skills like woodworking, laser cutting, CNC machining, and welding at TechShop and went on to found a funded laser company.

Ashana Davenport was kicked out her house by her mother at the age of 16 and dropped out of high school. Her Big Sister (from the Big Sister program) flew her out to San Francisco, and helped her graduate from high school and apply to college, where she is now majoring in computer science with eyes on a job at Google.

Certainly homelessness is an endemic and widespread problem in America, and coding is by no means a comprehensive solution.

But in the particular case of Journeyman Leo and McConlogue, learning to code goes a long way for both of them. McConlogue is reportedly in talks with a major book publisher, and hopefully Leo is on his way to finding/affording a home.

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