Sunday, August 25, 2013

Housing or Technology - Which is a Better Solution to Homelessness?

A story surface recently about Patrick McConlogue, a developer in New York who recently propositioned a homeless man to teach him how to code.  I find this to be a fascinating topic because I often wonder about the best strategy for eradicating our homelessness/joblessness situation in our society.
photo courtesy of http://gma.yahoo.com
What's interesting is that McConlogue has received criticism for this proposition.  Critics argue that McConlogue (and people trying to help) should focus on food and shelter first.  Patrick contends that he is offering what he can, which is knowledge.  The same can be said about Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg's internet.org initiative to make the internet available to everyone on the planet.  Do people in 3rd world countries really need internet before things like roads, running water, and farming equipment?  This is obviously not an easy question to answer.  If it were, then the smart people that have been working on these problems for decades centuries probably would have made more progress by now.

That being said, initiatives like internet.org have much more potential given technology today.  The internet offers the one thing that I've always said is the most important thing to upward mobility - Knowledge.  The world wide web is full of free tutorials, user guides, tips, DIY videos, blogs, and manuals on just about every topic known to man.  Google and wikipedia have opened the door to self-discovery, which leads to empowerment.  If those less fortunate, who are interested in learning, have the same access to these sources of information that the rest of us have, then I believe this will eventually lead to less poverty, violence, and disparity among people on this planet.  Plus, as I've learned through volunteering for great organizations like Habitat for Humanity, housing is time, labor, and resource intensive.  The internet may be a more scalable and sustainable solution.

Now, let me be clear in saying that I understand that many other variables come into play.  Some people either don't want to be helped, or have other circumstances like addiction and mental instability that prevent them from helping themselves.  I've been told anecdotally from former homeless not to give money to the homeless because 99% of them are going to try and buy drugs and alcohol with it.  I have no idea if that figure is correct or not, but the point is that there isn't a silver bullet to solving this problem.  However, at least there are people out there trying.  I applaud Patrick for his efforts.  He is going out of his way to help someone.  I find it to be refreshing and invigorating to read about.  I encourage you to read up on this experiment via his blog Medium.com to see what the outcome is.  I am really hopeful that the experiment leads to success for, at least, one man.  Furthermore, I hope it serves as a blueprint for helping many more in the future.