ROI vs Survival – The Homeless Mindset

For those not familiar, ROI stands for “Return On Investment”.   ROI is a term kicked around by business people, stock brokers, capitalists.   ROI is a way of measuring potential profit.  It is mentioned amongst people who are attempting to maximize their profits.   It is not really something you hear mentioned among homeless people, or by people running homeless facilities.

Homeless people’s minds are focused on other things, mainly survival.  ROI implies that a person has something and is trying to add to it.  Homeless people have nothing on which they could add more.  The survival mindset is all about trying to secure and keep the most basic of life’s necessities and just one of each.  Food, Shelter, Clothing, etc.  When you are homeless these basics are hard to come by, and even harder to keep.   For example, homeless people don’t have refrigerators in which to store food, therefore they must collect only enough for their immediate need, eat it as it becomes available, and then begin the search for the next meal.   This dynamic applies to everything a homeless person needs.   Homeless people are so far into the immediate, they are not inclined to think about future investments.

When business people, financial investors, or even the average citizen with a 401k, considers the homeless condition, they usually get it wrong.  They themselves have been thinking within the ROI paradigm for so long that they just can’t comprehend how other people might live.   They don’t realize, and perhaps they deny the fact, that homeless people live within a different paradigm – the paradigm of survival.

People who think in terms of ROI say things like, “If you improve/increase services to the homeless, you’ll only attract more homeless people to our area.” Or, they say things like, “The homeless are attracted to our city because we have such good weather.”  Or “feeding homeless people will cause our area to be overrun with homeless people”. Etc.  But none of these concepts are true. ROI and homelessness are like oil and water, they just don’t mix.  Sadly this ROI type of thinking easily becomes the defacto list of excuses for not helping the homeless to meet their immediate needs, nor to help them overcome their homelessness.

The reality of homelessness is that homeless people have very few places to just “be,” to actually exist without harassment.   By law and by police action, cities do their best to corral the homeless into the least desirable areas of town.   Of course there are laws that some people find to be a nuisance, such as laws of equal protection, that allow the homeless to participate in public events and use public facilities.   And so you have, in many cities, these little islands of homeless people, in public places such as public parks, and in the undesirable areas of town. (you will also notice certain “homeless highways”, paths that homeless people follow when they travel from one island to the next.)

Then when people are moved with compassion to help the homeless, by providing them shelter, or by feeding them, these compassionate people go looking for the places where the homeless are gathered, and that is where they set up shop, as it were.    The people who are against providing assistance to the homeless will tell you that services attract homeless people, but actually the reverse is true.   It is the homeless people who attracted the compassionate.   It is not even a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of question.   First there were homeless people, then came the compassionate people to help them.


About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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