TL;DR summary: if you’ve got tech skills and you want to be super awesome, go and run classes for a local charity or community group.
I’m not sure whether this is actually serious or someone’s just trolling Medium, but I’ve just come across this post: Finding the unjustly homeless, and teaching them to code (Update: someone just created an “Insanely offensive posts” collection on Medium specifically for this post. Oh, Internet!). The very short post is written by an NYC developer who plans to teach the homeless man he passes on his way to work how to code, the idea being that the homeless man can become a software developer himself and earn a living. The author’s strategy is as follows:
“The idea is simple. Without disrespecting him, I will offer two options:
- I will come back tomorrow and give you $100 in cash.
I don’t even know where to start here. This sounds like a very bad idea from someone who’s completely delusional. Moreover, I find the idea of giving a vulnerable and powerless person the choice between cash and some books of dubious value incredibly disrespectful. Sorry dude.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate the author’s willingness to help and volunteer his time. In fact, I’ve been running several charitable projects in the past few years (such as the “Beards of Manchester” calendar which raised a couple of grand for a local homelessness charity, co-founding “Manchester Girl Geeks” which has been organising low cost/free tech and science workshops for women for the past four years and is entirely run by volunteers, and managing the “Digital Skills for Women” project which organised free IT classes for unemployed women) and if there’s one thing that’s always hugely helpful it’s people volunteering their time. Oh, and giving their money, but that’s a different issue.
However, the idea of “freelancing” and approaching homeless persons directly to somehow “solve” their problems through whatever scheme you’ve come up with is simply misguided. I’m no expert on homelessness either, so this is really just an opinion and common sense, but I doubt being homeless is something that can be “cured” by learning to code. Especially if you’re learning to code while you’re still homeless.
”And do you have any other suggestions/gear he would need?”
Yeah. Like, safe accommodation perhaps. Regular meals. Access to health care. Y’know. I honestly don’t think learning to code (even to the level of being able to work as a developer, if that’s possible at all if you have to worry about basic things like “where do I get food from”) will help anyone who’s currently homeless to not be homeless anymore.
So, what can you do if you want to help?
Loads. Seriously. Loads. In the three weeks or so that we accepted applications for the “Digital Skills” courses we had around 100 women who applied for the “Basic IT Skills” courses, and another 80 applications for the more advanced courses (Social Media, and yes, Introduction to Web Development, and Introduction to Programming). Given that our target group (women from the area who were unemployed) was fairly narrow and that most of them did not hear about the courses on the internet (duh.), this is quite impressive. And even while we were running the classes, we kept getting requests from women who asked if we were planning another round, and from local charities who wanted us to run courses for their audience.
In short: there’s a huge demand for free IT classes, whether that’s basic or more advanced skills. We were lucky enough to obtain funding to pay our course tutors (all professional IT tutors and developers) for teaching the Digital Skills classes, but most charities won’t have any money left for things like that. Here in Manchester, the local libraries also run drop-in sessions to teach basic IT skills and help people getting started with using a computer in the first place.
And this is where you come in: you can offer to run IT classes (of all levels) for established charities and community groups. How about a weekly drop in class, on a fixed day and at a fixed time, for basic IT help? Or a weekend course with more advanced stuff? Show people how to use Facebook and Skype to stay in touch with family and friends? Teach young people how to stay safe online? A class specifically aimed at women with kids which runs during school hours? You get the idea.
There are two main advantages in helping out with an established group. First, they will know what their target audience is and what skills they need. In the case of the “Digital Skills” project, it was Word processing, finding information online, sending emails, basic stuff that is essential when you’re looking for jobs. The Social Media course was aimed at showing the learners how to keep a professional profile online, but also give them some ideas for Social Media marketing/community management type jobs which can be done working from home. For the more advanced classes, our focus was more on the general benefits of coding, such as building up confidence in technical skills.
And second, the learners will be familiar with the organisation and feel “safe”, which is incredibly important when working with vulnerable people. We ran our “Digital Skills” courses at local libraries which were absolutely brilliant – people know how to get there, they’re generally easy to get to by public transport, they’re friendly, trusted, and safe places (which is why you really need to stop closing them down, dear Manchester City Council), and they happened to have a large number of PCs available for us.
What are you waiting for?
To get you started, in Manchester specifically, there’s
and plenty of other charities and local community groups that might be happy to have you run classes – just ask. If you’ve got basic IT skills or some more advanced coding skills, and a couple of hours to spare every week or month, please volunteer. Oh and if you’re reading this post and you haven’t got any tech skills but some time to spare, please volunteer. We’ll always need a pair of extra hands.
On that note: