Homeless in Tech

shot in the line of duty

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. ~George Bernard Shaw

A man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s. ~Richard Whately

There’s a lot of talk in the startup world about community. Many cities are building robust tech and startup communities and I’ve had the privilege of visiting many of them. I didn’t realize how amazing of a thing it is on a grander scale until recently.

Put on your PJ’s and snuggle up because I’m going to tell a story. I don’t quite know the ending yet, but I hope you’ll finish reading with a more positive view of the world.

Last year I grew frustrated enough with the lack of programming education in the Dallas community to start a web development class. To drum up more interest, we got a local company to provide 10 scholarships. One of those scholarships ended up going to a homeless man.

Our head of PR Clarisa is the last person you would expect to drum up a conversation with a middle aged homeless guy. Her Manolo’s and Prada bags make you think more of popping bottles in first class. So imagine our surprise when she came in and said someone would be applying that she just met at the coffee shop, and that he lived on the streets. Of course this is part of why we love Clarisa. She’s a walking contradiction and probably the most solid person you’ll ever meet.

So class starts and we meet our new student. Jay, the web development teacher for The Codex, takes our new friend under his wing. Then tragedy strikes. One night there wasn’t room at the shelter and while sleeping on the streets, his laptop that a friend gave him is stolen. Without a tool for learning, he won’t be able to finish the course.

Jay jumps in and finds someone who is willing to donate a laptop to get our friend back online again. A natural community builder, Jay invites all the students to local startup events and even gets them comped tickets. At one of these events, our new friend is offered a job in Austin. He ultimately decides to stay in Dallas because he wants to continue learning and has just received permanent housing.

Fast forward a couple of months and you can see him working on projects at Fort Work, a local co-working space. Understanding what it’s like to build back from zero, the owner Oren works out a deal with our friend. Our friend is also now an ambassador for The Codex and will continue to take classes for free by spreading the word.

Oren (TW ’13) was in my office yesterday and told me that he and our friend had a conversation the other day. Apparently this is the first time he’s felt like part of something. It’s the first time he’s felt like part of a community.

Interesting considering he was once a deputy sheriff who was shot in the line duty and his life spiraled downward ever since. His story is fascinating if you take the time to listen.