Leo Grand may be homeless, but his extraordinary qualities make him one of New York City’s as-yet unsung heroes. The guy who saw something special in Leo, which has led to him realizing some of his enormous potential, is Patrick McConlogue. Their story re-affirms faith in human nature.
Back in August, Patrick had an idea. For five months he had walked past Leo on his way to work each day. Leo camped out by the Hudson river with his all his worldly goods piled up in a shopping trolley. Something about him touched a nerve in McConlogue, he couldn’t put a finger on what it was. One day, he saw that Leo had found some boat chains and used them to create a makeshift exercise bench. This was the trigger. He had to help this man.
When he walked up to the homeless man and spoke to him for the first time, making this out-of-the-blue offer to learn to code, there was a spark between them. Leo accepted. Not the money. He wanted to be taught. Leo has since said he saw the moment as “Door number two” opening.
When Patrick wrote about this on his blog he was inundated with feedback. Some was supportive but a lot was incredibly negative. Comments were snarky. Expect to see that laptop for sale on the street corner soon, was the general tone. He was even compared to the villains in Trading Places.
The laptop did not go up for sale. Leo was using it. He had never had one before and did not know any basics, even how to copy and paste. But he had a huge willingness, an incredible memory, and an instant love, and talent for, coding. Along with their daily hour of instruction, Leo would sit on park benches and figure out what to do. A nearby apartment block let him charge up the laptop, and he could then use it for 3 or 4 hours at a stretch. The dense and difficult information began to make a lot of sense to him. Often his hands would be shaking with cold, but he never regretted the decision.
“I can go through $100 in a few days” he told reporters, but he knew that with the laptop he could “learn how to do something and I figured it could turn into something more.”
That “something more” is an app. Developed,designed and written by Leo, the “Trees for Cars” app allows NYC residents to connect and car share. Leo is a passionate environmentalist. Although he hopes one day to have his own apartment again, he likes to be outside, breathing oxygen and feeling close to the natural world. “Trees for Cars” was launched last week. It went live for both iOS and Android midnight Tuesday.
That these two friends have made it this far is heart-warming. Patrick regards Leo as an equal and for that reason has resisted criticism from some quarters that he would do better to have found Leo a home, or a job. He suspects Leo will find work again, and says he is to set to outstrip him in programming talent within a year or so.
Leo had a slight setback when he was arrested for sleeping on a bench and his second-hand chromebook he had got from Patrick was confiscated. Leo has all respect for the authorities and says he did not resent his treatment. Another guardian angel was to come to his aid. Google employee, Logan Ury, had been following his progress on Patrick’s blog and Facebook page. She took leave and flew to New York and bought Leo a new computer. Logan thinks a new kind of mentorship may spring up, whereby “countless other Leos” could learn the new language of the American dream, not English, the language of writing “elegant and efficient code.”
Leo is still on the streets, still homeless, where he lives among a supportive community. He jokes about moving into Trump Tower, but meanwhile, his inner peace is achieved through faith and the friendship of people like Patrick. He wants the world to know that not all homeless people are mentally ill, or addicts. Leo is homeless, but he is smart, sensitive and out to make this world a better place. He is nothing short of a hero.
By Kate Henderson