Baylor study highlights huge impact of faith-based groups on efforts to help the homeless

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Wed, 2017-03-01 12:53 -- Compassionate C...

The study from the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion – Assessing the Faith-based Response to Homelessness in America: Findings from Eleven Cities – should be a must-read for anyone involved in homeless services. Many will be astounded by the depth and breadth of work that faith-based organizations (FBOs) are doing to support the homeless in cities across the country – often behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.

But as the Baylor researchers point out, many of these organizations are at the forefront of addressing root causes of homelessness and innovating long-term solutions. There's a lot of learn about how they're doing it – from using data and technology to focusing on relationships with the clients they serve but also with cities and counties, nonprofits and other faith-based groups. – Liz Enbysk

“As the mayor of Indianapolis, I worked hand-in-hand with faith-based organizations to provide services to those experiencing homelessness,” said Greg Ballard, former mayor of Indianapolis. “This study takes an important step toward illuminating the magnitude of these organizations’ social and economic contributions to communities around the country.”

Indianapolis is one of the 11 cities the Baylor researchers studied; the other 10 were Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego and Seattle. The goal was to provide an initial, credible estimate of the impact, socially and economically, of faith- based organizations (FBOs) in those cities.

What they found are some stunning numbers. For example, faith-based organizations:

  • Provide 58% of emergency shelter beds in the 11 cities surveyed, with percentages varying from a high of 90% in Omaha to 33% in Portland, Oregon
  • Create an estimated $9.42 in taxpayer savings for every $1 invested by the government
  • Generate an estimated $119 million in tax savings in the 11 cities during the three years following implementation of faith-based residential recovery and job readiness programs

“The data in this study sheds light on the largely overlooked, significant role of the multi-faith sector in addressing the homelessness challenge in urban and rural communities and doing so in innovative ways,” said Byron R. Johnson, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences and director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

Why homelessness happens
One key finding from the study highlights different views on the root cause of homelessness.

Government agencies and public policymakers tend to regard the lack of housing as the cause of homelessness, but many FBOs see it as a symptom of a deeper problem, the authors explain. "As one FBO service provider told us: 'People don’t become homeless when they run out of money, at least not right away. They become homeless when they run out of relationships.'"

Another finding zooms in on the technology that FBOs use to get results.

The authors state that many of the FBO homeless ministries "demonstrate the ability to be both highly-relational in their ministry to individuals and families experiencing homelessness (high touch) while also employing sophisticated, metrics-based performance measurement and management systems (high-tech)."

The study also highlights innovative programs that FBOs are working on, including:

  • In Phoenix, the Phoenix Rescue Mission is implementing a new RAP initiative (Rescue, Assess, and Place) to divert homeless individuals and families from the large “big box” municipal shelter. The RAP program is designed specifically for individuals demonstrating a desire to change and improve their condition.
  • Omaha, noted for some of the lowest numbers of homeless among major cities in the U.S., has an extensive array of FBO homeless ministries involved in everything from pre-release prison programs designed to connect ex-offenders with residential programs upon release, to affordable housing programs that accept referrals from residential recovery programs of formerly homeless individuals and families.
  • In Jacksonville, the Salvation Army has launched an initiative called Pathway for Hope. The purpose of this program is to provide long-term, intensively relational case management services to address inter-generational poverty issues for families experiencing homelessness.
  • In Portland, Fortify is a partnership between Multnomah County Department of Human Services and the Portland Leadership Foundation, an FBO. The purpose of Fortify is to provide housing and tailored support for families that are in “diversion,” meaning that they are at risk of losing their children to Child Protective Services. The PLF works with community-based partners to recruit and train congregation-based support teams to work with these families, many of whom are at-risk of becoming homeless due to financial instability and other sources of social instability in the home.

Byron Johnson and William H. Wubbenhorst authored the study, which you can download here.

More on battling homelessness:
Machine learning pilot focuses on reducing homeless recidivism
Foundation uses special website to engage young, homeless sofa hoppers
Bridging human services silos that impede progress on homelessness


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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