The significant impact of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in addressing U.S. homelessness is often overlooked, according to a new report from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies in Religion.

The report, “Assessing the Faith-Based Response to Homelessness in America,” seeks to address a lack of research on the role of faith-based responses to homelessness.

“We have a paradox,” the report observes. “On the one hand, we have a very significant body of empirical evidence showing that the practice of one’s faith tends to protect people from harm while also promoting positive behavior for individuals and families. On the other hand, a review of federally funded studies on homelessness reveals that faith as well as marriage remain largely overlooked as factors that might reduce addiction, abuse and homelessness.”

Key findings include:

  • A majority (58 percent) of U.S. emergency shelter beds are provided by FBOs.
  • Successful outcomes from FBOs’ residential recovery and job-readiness programs save taxpayers an estimated $119 million every three years.
  • The more FBO-provided emergency shelter beds in a city, the lower the percentage of unsheltered homeless persons (in most instances).
  • FBOs are often leading innovators in improving approaches to assist homeless persons and reduce homelessness.

Eric Bauer, executive director of Portland Rescue Mission, said the faith community’s impact is likely greater than the report’s data indicates.

“It is impossible to count the impact of the faith community on preventing and mitigating homelessness,” he said, “since a significant amount of unreported support is given by local churches to people within their church community, people who come to them directly for assistance or people they reach out to in a grass-roots manner.”

The full report is available here.

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