Study examines effects of faith-based organizations on homeless population

William Wubbenhorst, non-resident fellow in the Baylor institute of studies of religion, participated in a study on the effects of faith-based organizations on the homeless population. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

A new Baylor study details the effect that faith-based organizations have on the homeless population in 11 cities across the United States. The study, “Assessing the Faith-Based Response to Homelessness in America: Findings from Eleven Cities,” was authored by Bryan Johnson, co-director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, and non-resident William Wubbenhorst, fellow in the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.

For the study, a faith-based organization was defined as “an organization for which a particular faith (e.g., Christian, Jewish, etc.) serves as the primary motivation to serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” according to the report.

The study found that 60 percent of emergency shelter beds are provided by faith-based organizations.

“The concept of [a] safety net is the service of a last resort. It struck me that emergency shelter beds for homeless people is the ‘safety net of all safety nets,’” Wubbenhorst said.

The study also found that the Housing First program, an initiative to provide homeless people with housing as quickly as possible, does not effectively aid congregational-based faith-based organizations. For many organizations, the requirements to receive federal aid are so costly that not accepting public funding outweighs the benefits of accepting it, Wubbenhorst said. He said that many faith-based organizations do not have the infrastructure or systems to keep up with the reporting that is required to be a recipient of federal funding.

“One of the barriers with government [is] they create reporting requirements that are overly burdensome, and some organizations that may be doing effective work at the ground level, but they simply don’t have the infrastructure to meet the reporting requirements,” Wubbenhorst said.

After speaking with faith-based organization leaders, Wubbenhorst and his team found that these groups as well as Housing and Urban Development have a different understanding of the causes of homelessness. Housing and Urban Development considers homelessness to be a direct problem, according to the report. However, faith-based organizations consider homelessness to be a symptom of a larger issue. Namely, lack of relationships.

“Drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues are still two of the primary issues. The state of Texas is number 50 out of 50 states, helping the mentally ill… If you get schizophrenia on the streets and you can’t see a doctor, then self-medication becomes a way of dealing,” said executive director of Mission Waco, Jimmy Dorrell.

Dorrell said homelessness is a complex issue that stems from multiple smaller issues such as minimum wage, infrastructure and affordable housing. Lack of relationships may be a factor, but it is only part of the problem, Dorrell said.

The study is meant to highlight the success faith-based organizations have had in assisting the homeless, Wubbenhorst said. He also said the study offers constructive criticism, not from himself and Johnson, but based on the responses gathered in the report and the facts presented. Wubbenhorst also said that faith-based organizations and the government should work to create a data collection system that is practical and can be used to evaluate how effective initiatives by the government and faith-based organizations are in combating homelessness.

“The problem of homelessness in some areas is so big, you need to tap into every resource you can. The premise here is that if you can foster more collaboration, you can increase effectiveness in [aiding] the homeless,” Wubbenhorst said.