WASHINGTON, D.C. — Faith-based organizations are at the forefront of addressing root causes of homelessness, providing not only the majority of emergency shelter beds but innovating long-term solutions, a new study by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion concludes.
Released last month at the National Press Club in Washington, the study looked at homelessness in 11 sample cities — including Portland — and is part of a growing body of independent research examining the socio-economic impact of faith-based organizations across the United States.
“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 Johnson, distinguished professor of social sciences and director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.
“This research is helpful because it reveals the mainly untold story of the socio-economic impact of faith-based organizations on the common good health and flourishing of whole communities.”
Oregon has some of the highest homeless rates in the nation. Baylor’s study shows how faith- and non-faith-based organizations in Portland are coming together to address fundamental, underlying issues affecting homelessness.
According to the study, faith-based organizations provide 58 percent of emergency shelter beds in the 11 cities surveyed across the nation, in addition to providing an array of vital services and personalized interventions necessary for long-term recovery and independence.
These services include, but are not limited to, education, healthcare, job training and addiction recovery.
As a result, the study estimates, faith-based organizations create $9.42 in taxpayer savings for every $1 invested by the government.
It further shows 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.
According to the Baylor study, residential recovery and job readiness programs are an area where faith-based organizations are “at the forefront of program innovation and organizational transformation for improving positive outcomes for the homeless individuals and families.”
“In most cases, people become homeless due to a range of complex personal and societal factors, not just because they cannot afford a home, “Johnson said.
“Our conclusions demonstrate that faith-based organizations are in a unique position to treat the systemic issues that create homelessness to develop sustainable solutions for both individuals and municipalities,” Johnson added.
The research also illuminates how collaboration among faith-based, community groups, private industry, and local, state and federal government agencies creates the strongest responses to homelessness and its underlying issues.
“Organizations addres-sing homelessness partake in often challenging work, and our goals are only attainable through the good nature of our volunteers, the support of our community and the common belief that what we do here is really making a difference in the lives of others,” said Suzanna Rempel, executive director for New City Initiatives in Portland. “I’m pleased that Baylor’s new study has brought awareness to this work around the country.”
For the project, Johnson and co-author William Wubbenhorst collected data and interviewed individuals in both faith-and non-faith-based organizations across the nation during 2016.
The goal was to better understand how homelessness has increased or decreased in 11 diverse cities around the country, quantify faith-based organizations’ interventions in homelessness and related issues, and estimate taxpayer savings associated with residential recovery and job readiness programs.
To access the report, an executive summary and explainer graphics, go to www.baylorisr.org/publications/case-studies.