Effectiveness of Non-Profit Shelter Programs

Effectiveness of Non-Profit Shelter Programs

I’ve been looking at the following document:   NATIONAL SURVEY OF HOMELESS ASSISTANCE PROVIDERS AND CLIENTS (NSHAPC) which is  based on the US Census Bureau survey of 40,000 service providers in the US.    You can find a copy of it (about 70 pages) here 

Administrators of housing programs were asked where their clients went after leaving the program.   Administrators of housing programs tend to know where their clients go after leaving their program.    On average, administrators of faith-based housing programs know the destinations of about 75 percent of their unaccompanied individual clients and 90 percent of their family clients.  The corresponding figures for secular non-profit housing programs are 86 percent of unaccompanied individuals and 90 percent of families.

The top three destinations are the same irrespective of whether the client is alone or with children and whether the program is run by a faith-based or secular non-profit agency.  These destinations are (1) a family or friend’s housing, (2) private unsubsidized housing, and (3) government subsidized housing.

Successful transitions:
Where they went afterward……… Faith Based……. Secular…… (both are non profits. The figures below apply to individuals, not families)
1) Family or Friends housing……….17.6 ……………….25.1
2) Private Unsubsidized……………….21.6………………..17.7
3) government subsidized………….. 13.0………………. 14.3
4) transitional housing…………………. 9.7………………… 7.3
on average success…………………… 61.9………………. 64.6

Unsucessful transitions
5) The streets or other outside……12.7………………… 8.7
6) Other emergency shelter………. 11.6……………….. 8.9
7) Other (jail, hospital, etc)………… 13.8………………. 18.8

Arrow The above data (from Table 11 of the document) seems to show that Secular non-profits are slightly more effective than faith based non-profits in moving the homeless off the streets. and much more effective in putting homeless back into family or friends housing.

Arrow The success rate for either is slightly better than 60%. However, about 9 to 12% of individuals moving from shelter to shelter and another 9 to 12% going right back to the streets. For families, the rates are as follows:

Faith Based:……. 76.2% into housing of some type ……17.6% to street or other shelter
Secular:…………… 82.3% into housing of some type…….11.1% to street or other shelter

Arrow Secular programs seem to be doing somewhat better than Faith based programs for families and only slightly better for individuals.

Not the result I expected.


So What is the Difference in These Programs?

The earlier part of this post has some startling revelations – Secular run shelters seem to have an overall higher rate of success on all levels than comparable Faith-based run shelters. 

I’m going out on a limb here to stimulate thought and see where it takes us.

I’m assuming that both Faith Based and Secular shelters have essentially the same rules, at least as far as alcohol and drug use, curfews, and disorderly conduct, theft and other such behavior, particularly when spread out over 40,000 shelters in the survey. I’m also assuming that both Faith Based and Secular shelter administrators and staff are both caring, have good hearts, and run the shelters in a firm but loving manner.

So… What really is the difference?    

Probably not the homeless, not the food, not the counseling and other secular services of both types of shelters, and not the compassion of their staffs.  Not the need for information and not the testing.  I expect these to be about the same for both types of shelters.  Not even the location.

Maybe, just maybe it is that there is a percentage of the homeless that are completely set on being independent in their thinking about religion, and a desire to not be forced into attending sermons, bible study, listening to “going to hell” lectures in order to get a meal,  that drop out of the Faith based shelter and not the secular run shelter..

The difference is this:  secular ministris strive to feed and shelter the poor (period) and faith based ministries strive to feed and shelter the poor with a goal of spreading the Good News.    How does that make a difference in the statistics?

There are at least four categories of homeless.

1 The homeless that do not have a clue as to how to get into a shelter or the shelters are “always full”. These are not included in the survey cited.

2 There is a set of homeless that never go to a shelter because “they have too many rules” such as alcohol and drug use. This may also include those on the run and those evicted for some incident at a shelter. These are not included in the survey cited.

3 There is a set that will tolerate rules and go but do not want to “jump through hoops” to get a meal or bed (mandetory sermons, bible study, etc).

4 There is a set that is just overjoyed to be able to find a safe place to sleep and get a good meal that will tolerate and even welcome the rules and the need to jump theough hoops.

It is set 3 that I’m suggesting may make the difference between the two programs. The Faith based programs may have lost those in group 3 whereas the Secular programs may have not.

A Faith-based shelter that provides ample opportunity for church, bible study, prayer and spiritual discussion should be very successful.   What I’m suggesting is that it should also not be mandatory if  the goal is a true ministry to feed the weak, and the poor.   I suspect that those that choose not to attend available religious services will get some peer pressure to reconsider, but active pressure should be discouraged so as to serve as many as possible.

Here is my point:  Going out and spreading the Gospel is one thing.  Feeding and housing the needy is another.  Jesus told us to do both.  Forcing religion on people does not work because conversion is only possible through the Holy Spirit.   Providing an opportunity is all that is needed for both food for the body and food for the soul, but a ministry to the poor, needy and homeless should not have hoops to jump through other than absolutely necessary for safety of those present.    

I invite you to tell me where I’m wrong and/or add your comments and expertise to this discussion.


4 responses to “Effectiveness of Non-Profit Shelter Programs

  1. I have always felt as a Christian put off by some “high powered” Christianity. I grew up in the Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening, Wednesday Evening, Saturday Visitation, Family. Maybe I am in my place because it is my learning experience and believe me I have learned a lot. I do not believe the road back should have a mandatory prayer group or a sermon attached for assistance. I am part of the Thirty Percent Statistic that the VA feels that they cannot afford to Triage at the moment, and am at the bottom rung of their “Conitnuum of Care”. The shelters I have been offered to stay in by the VA were worse than “Nightmares on Elm Street” and I walked out never to return or to try again. Everytime I have tried for assistance, it has always been some sort of “No Funds”, or “You do not qualify” though I am 100% VA (though they drag their feet a lot there too). Some of us have to swallow a lot of pride to go into these programs. Personally as someone that is not addicted to alcohol or drugs, or mentally ill (I think) to have to be grouped with some people that are is dehumanizing just because of my homeless situation. I work every day when I can find it, and as I write this I will be going to finish a job. It does not pay much but it keeps me a live. Christ taught Compassion. Compassion that Christ taught versus the dictionary version are two different things. In the dictionary, it says to feel. Christ taught Compassion as Action. Christs’ actions and compassion was what converted men and women to Christianity, not just sermonizing. The problems with the structure of the programs and it could just be me is that there are going to be failures, but look at the successes and what could be better. God created a Heaven and a Hell because even He could not save them all.

  2. When our coalition of 10 Presbyterian churches in our county build Habitat Houses we do it as a mission opportunity in order to help someone out. Same with our disaster relief efforts and also when we serve food at the shelters.

    We have no input into the selection of who is in need or what their religous views are (if any) and don’t ask, and purposely just do the work that fills their needs for a house they can make into a home or puts food on the table. Such things are given from the heart and it is all volunteer work.

    I think that we need to be Christians by example when we are doing these kinds of mission work, but not wear our Christianity on our sholders or pass out tracts.

    Otherwise we would be doing it with the expectation of something in return. That is not the purpose of a gift freely given.

    Our churches do have outreach groups that do spread the Good News and try to reach the unchurched and unsaved, but it is not coupled with our mission work to help those in need.

    When building or repairing a house we do pray before starting and ask a blessing at meals, but that is not for show or to pull someone in. It is for our own need to commune with God.

    I have to admit, if one of those we are helping asks about our church or our religion, we will be very happy to tell them about our Lord… give them a quick an injection, but not a steady dose. It is the Holy Spirit that does the work of conversion, not us. We do have a fast growing church, thanks entirely to the Holy Spirit at work.

    Wanderingvet, I don’t recommend giving up on all shelters just because you have hit a few bad ones in a row. Word of mouth, as you know, can be a very reliable indicator of which ones to stay out of and which ones you can get needed help along with a bed. Ask around. You don’t have to go through the VA to get into any of the good shelters, though the good ones are very often the ones that are at capacity.

    You can also call 2-1-1 if you can find a phone (or in your case, go to a local united way internet site and look up their 211 call center info page). Then ask around among your fellow wanderers and see which ones they recommend, if any.

    I have come across a number of good shelters and maybe it would be a service to list a few around the country and ask our readers for more suggestions. The international homeless forum also ran a series on that subject that you might look into.

    So you once lived in my neck of the woods! I’m sorry I missed you.


  3. I respect all you do Sir, you are a valued resource and I deeply respect your insights and input.

  4. In my occupation as a bus driver, I work on a route passing through the worst part of my city, and I meet many homeless people. A considerable number of them do resent the proselytizing which of the various denominations. As an agnostic, I can understand their feelings.

    I also encounter other street people who’s only real comfort is their belief that there is a loving god who will, in the end, look after them. It’s difficult to know if the numbers given above indicate an accurate distribution of religious vs. non religious street people. I suspect occupancy is based first on what’s available at the moment with religious or non-religious preferences second.

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