Presentation Title

“Meet Them Where They Are”: Faith-Based and Secular Homeless Outreach Approaches

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Artist Statement

Many organizations strive to provide resources for individuals experiencing homelessness both in and outside of shelters. Studies analyzing the effects of religiosity on the practices of homeless shelters show that both faith-based and secular shelters generally offer a variety of services, from the accommodative, such as food and shelter, to the restorative, like housing, substance-use rehabilitation, and spiritual transformation (Snow and Anderson 1987). Although both types of shelters may require clients to participate in the latter to access the former, faith-based shelters often show a belief-based rigidity, with many requiring prayer, sermon attendance, or a proclamation of faith to access meals or lodging (Mulder 2004; Sager 2011). In contrast, very little data exist regarding religious influence on outreach services for individuals living outside the shelter system. Many individuals experiencing homelessness do not, or cannot, access shelter services for a variety of reasons. Some shelters or other organizations use homeless outreach teams to access people living outside of the shelter system. Using qualitative participant observation, I examined the differences in services, approaches, and goals between a faith-based and a secular homeless outreach team. I interviewed staff members and volunteers to reveal the connection between policy and practice. Method triangulation between participant observation, interviews, and policy content analysis allowed me to better understand how outreach teams interpret the organizations’ missions in the field. I found accommodative services provided by both organizations to be very similar, and although restorative services differed slightly, neither team required clients to participate in restorative services to access accommodative ones. Unlike much of the shelter data, religiosity did not show to drastically influence homeless outreach approaches. This research contributes to a gap in research on differences between faith-based and secular homeless outreach approaches.

Mentor Name

Daisy Rooks

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“Meet Them Where They Are”: Faith-Based and Secular Homeless Outreach Approaches

UC 330

Many organizations strive to provide resources for individuals experiencing homelessness both in and outside of shelters. Studies analyzing the effects of religiosity on the practices of homeless shelters show that both faith-based and secular shelters generally offer a variety of services, from the accommodative, such as food and shelter, to the restorative, like housing, substance-use rehabilitation, and spiritual transformation (Snow and Anderson 1987). Although both types of shelters may require clients to participate in the latter to access the former, faith-based shelters often show a belief-based rigidity, with many requiring prayer, sermon attendance, or a proclamation of faith to access meals or lodging (Mulder 2004; Sager 2011). In contrast, very little data exist regarding religious influence on outreach services for individuals living outside the shelter system. Many individuals experiencing homelessness do not, or cannot, access shelter services for a variety of reasons. Some shelters or other organizations use homeless outreach teams to access people living outside of the shelter system. Using qualitative participant observation, I examined the differences in services, approaches, and goals between a faith-based and a secular homeless outreach team. I interviewed staff members and volunteers to reveal the connection between policy and practice. Method triangulation between participant observation, interviews, and policy content analysis allowed me to better understand how outreach teams interpret the organizations’ missions in the field. I found accommodative services provided by both organizations to be very similar, and although restorative services differed slightly, neither team required clients to participate in restorative services to access accommodative ones. Unlike much of the shelter data, religiosity did not show to drastically influence homeless outreach approaches. This research contributes to a gap in research on differences between faith-based and secular homeless outreach approaches.