For many, religious beliefs and practices provide comfort, community, and a deep connection to their spirituality. Through challenges including addiction and mental illness, for those experiencing homelessness, these needs are vital and often get lost. Faith-based organizations are working nationwide to include their unhoused community members in their faith and aid them through the darkness. This resource has the power to encourage unhoused individuals to continue their faith while finding needed protection.
Religious organizations do more than provide unhoused people a space to continue their faith, but often a place to sleep. In fact, faith-based groups account for 30% of emergency shelter beds in the nation and, as of 2016, have the capacity to shelter 150,000 individuals per night. These community spaces are often more comfortable for those experiencing homelessness than shelters, as religious organizations have strong ties to their community and are dedicated to providing for their neighbors. The connections that faith-based organizations have also make them influential as they are often active within local governments in the fight to end homelessness.
The sense of community and belonging that someone experiencing homelessness may find within a faith-based organization can make the difference needed to find that individual permanent housing. The religious organizations continue to make efforts to stay connected to one another even after they have found accommodation.
One anonymous member of a faith-based organization told The National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Connecting our residents to local churches is often a key aspect of them staying in housing long-term. Relationships are key to all of our success, and for many of the men walking through our doors, there’s a lack of key relationships.”
Community is often the most helpful for marginalized individuals experiencing homelessness. Another anonymous member in Arlington, Washington, stated that they work to serve Spanish and Russian speakers within the community who cannot receive aid elsewhere.
The sense of community that one gains by engaging with a faith-based organization helps restore hope and companionship. Reverend Deborah W. Little began going to the streets of Boston in 1994 to build connections with her unhoused neighbors. From there, common cathedral was born and has been working to serve the homeless community. Most days of the week, ministers will go the streets offering prayer, companionship, and sometimes referrals to social service agencies. They firmly believe that reestablishing trust, connection, and belief is the most effective way to provide recovery, especially for individuals struggling with addiction and mental illness. Deborah W. Little states, “How did I get to the street? I wanted to learn about God, and I wanted to learn what it is to be a servant. I wanted to get closer to people on the street, to help, to understand, to learn, and to see what it means to love your neighbor.” Many members of religious groups agree that it is their desire for compassion through faith that drives them to work for the protection of those experiencing homelessness.
A study done at Baylor University using data collected by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that cities with higher participation from religious groups had lower rates of unsheltered individuals. Providing those experiencing homelessness with a space to not only practice their faith but to engage with their community, find shelter, and be surrounded by people who are fighting for them is crucial. The services provided locally from a faith-based organization can be what is needed to lift an individual from the challenges of homelessness and bring them peace, comfort, and protection.