Does Religious Involvement in Social Services Lead to Greater Success?

Jul 17, 2015

Earlier this summer, Milwaukee launched a new effort called Housing First to address the problem of chronic homelessness in the city. At last count, an estimated 200 people in Milwaukee went without housing for a full year, or were homeless multiple times over three years. 

Currently, the largest homeless shelter which offers beds for shorter periods of time is the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, on West Wells Street.  While it provides hundreds of beds and meals each day, it also does not shy away from its religious mission or evangelist services. Before receiving help, one must attend a prayer service in exchange for a meal or bed. A large number of their staff members have religious backgrounds to help the shelter maintain its religious beliefs.

That led Milwaukee Magazine’s senior editor Matt Hrodey to wonder how the Mission’s two goals go hand-in-hand in an article called "Food for the Soul," featured in the July edition.  Hrodey says conclusions are hard to reach.

"I think they have like a dozen people who are ordained ministers on staff – and they said, 'We just have a fever for doing this that we wouldn’t have unless we had a religious identity,'" Hrodey says.  But at the same time, Hrodey points to workers without a religious affiliation who say they have just as much zeal for their work.

"You have to wonder would it be as large or well funded by private sources if it wasn't able to pitch itself as 'we're not just giving people three squares and a bed, we're changing their lives with religion'?" says Hrodey.