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Sarah Johnsen: Case Study 6 - The role of faith-based organizations in service provision for homeles

16 February 12

In Religion and Change in Modern Britain (published Feb 2012 by Routledge), the chapters are interspersed by shorter contributions bringing themes to life through particular case studies. In this podcast, Norman Winter is in conversation with Dr Sarah Johnsen, the author of one of those case studies.

Sarah Johnsen is Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Housing, Urban and Real Estate Research at the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University. She led a team who conducted research on the role of faith-based organisations in service provision for homeless people.

This study investigated the practices and perceptions of faith-based and secular initiatives. There has been suspicion voiced in some quarters that quality standards might be less consistent in the faith-motivated sector, and concern expressed that the faith-dimension might intrude inappropriately into their work.

Sarah Johnsen talks about how the study was conducted in Manchester and London, where a range of faith organisations are engaged in provision of services.

The study found that homeless people often find it difficult to tell the difference between faith-based and secular services, and little evidence that they were concerned by the faith background of the services they were offered.

The research showed that most small organisations providing basic soup runs and night shelters are faith-based. They often offer assistance with no requirements being placed upon the recipients, which some critics argue contributes to keeping vulnerable homeless people in positions of high risk. The team described this approach as “non-interventionist”.

More “interventionist” approaches, often practised by larger organisations offering specialist services such as high support hostels, aim to address the specific needs of individuals to enable them to move into more secure accommodation. In doing so they impose conditions on recipients, for instance with regard to addressing drug dependency. Fewer faith-based organisations are engaged in interventionist provision.

The study showed, Sarah Johnsen says, that there is no apparent foundation for concerns that faith-based homelessness organisations misuse their position to promote religion when supported by public funding. She does, however, draw attention to the debate around the effectiveness and value of the non-interventionist way in which many of them, based on their religious convictions, operate.

This study was funded by Religion and Society (click here to read more).

Duration: 21.21

Click here for the list of podcasts about the book.

Podcasts compiled by Norman Winter

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