We all draw the line at some point. Most of us draw it at the front door. Insiders and outsiders, on the lease or walking on eggshells, in the green or in the red, sleeping indoors or in a car. Housing insecurity is the ultimate low point on your resume, the red flag for job hopping, sponging, smelling funny at work and parking on the premises at night with friends. Often shady friends with alternative sources of income.

Some of us want to address the housing crisis proactively, creatively, and charitably. Where then do we draw the line? How do we teach independence and employability to people who have spiraled to the bottom of this toilet bowl that is the open gutter of the bus stop bench? How do we incentivize gainful employment, good housing and neighborliness in our tenants without imposing extortionate rent?

Perhaps the most common answer given by faith-based half-way houses is Bible study. The risks are manifold – exclusion of other faiths, of nonbelievers, of agnostics and other denominations of Christian faith, and above all corruption of the teaching of religion by making participation compulsory, on threat of eviction. I’ve even dealt with evictions on the basis of the “outcome” of an exorcism, although clearly this instance speaks to corruption on a rather grand scale. (Think routinization of welfare fraud here.)

One resource that looks promising to me is the Insight and Outlook curricula for service providers working with youth and adults on life skills for moving out and negotiating other critical transitions like leaving correctional facilities, seeking treatment for addictions or getting out of a gang. The paradigm under which these materials were developed is one of scientific testing of educational materials and behavior change interventions, and they demand no specific religious commitments from participants. (To look for meta-analyses of scientific studies evaluating the effectiveness of different approaches to educational and behavioral interventions, refer to the Campbell Collaboration’s library of systematic reviews.) Pricing is not listed on the website, but the specs of the materials sound good to me.

Leaving faith out of the picture may not make sense to you, based on personal experience. One way to create space for faith-based intervention within a non-exclusionary environment is also to introduce structured time “for meditation and/or prayer”, in which silence is observed together and each individual’s reflections are his or her own.


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