How Faith-Based Ministry to the Homeless May Shape Carson’s HUD

Influential new data looks at the role of religion in rehabilitation

With Dr. Ben Carson’s confirmation nearly at hand, a more “holistic” approach to investing in human capital, as Dr. Carson put it, should be on the horizon—and it should lead to greater cooperative efforts between HUD and these faith-based programs.

 

A homeless man, woman, or child needs a bed, a roof, a meal—and typically a lot besides. Just as home means something greater than the presence of these three, homelessness is much more than their absence.

New research, the first study of its kind, delves into the work faith-based organizations do in service to the homeless. The difference between housing someone and ministering to “the whole person” is hard, probably impossible, to measure. But by collecting federal data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and gathering self-reported numbers from faith-based organizations ministering to the homeless in eleven American cities, authors Byron Johnson and William Wubbenhorst at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion determined these “FBOs” offer most of the emergency shelter beds in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, and Seattle.

“The unfortunate reality is that there are precious little studies like this one,” said Johnson, during the results’ big reveal at the National Press Club on Wednesday morning. Accurate and serviceable data collection, not to mention the quantifiable successes of ministry to the homeless, will require a more complete collaboration between faith-based organizations and federally-supported housing programs. Assessing the Faith-Based Response to Homelessness in America: Findings from Eleven Cities is just the beginning.

“HUD does a ton of research, but if you read the HUD research, it doesn’t mention faith-based organizations,” Johnson told me. The organizations that he and his coauthor studied are hardly obscure—some, like the Salvation Army and Jewish Family Services, have been around for nearly a century and a half. “What we’re trying to say is these groups are doing a lot of good. We need to do a lot more.”

“With systematic evaluation, you can figure out where there blind spots are, and how they can improve.” Bringing these organizations’ successes and drawbacks to HUD’s attention shouldn’t be hard.

With Dr. Ben Carson’s confirmation nearly at hand, a more “holistic” approach to investing in human capital, as Dr. Carson put it, should be on the horizon—and it should lead to greater cooperative efforts between HUD and these faith-based programs. In his testimony to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Carson committed his support for a “holistic” approach to poverty and homelessness, social ailments for which there is one-size-fits-all simple fix.

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