Piety and Poverty: The Religious Response to the Homeless in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Robertson writes about two contrasting charitable groups with very different views of the homeless. Fundamentalist religious groups value self-reliance, rehabilitation, and salvation through Jesus Christ as the means of combatting homelessness, so they seek to help the "most worthy" of the homeless. Mainstream church groups, on the other hand, value the experience of charitable work as an enriching experience for the church members. They obtain government help, which comes with some restrictions but allows them to assist the very poorest of the poor, including the mentally ill and the addicted. Both groups have a place in the system of agencies and programs assisting Albuquerque's homeless. Robertson recommends that the federal government simplify its grants process by reducing the paperwork demands and complex regulations that hinder small, poor agencies from applying for public funding to help the homeless, and that a greater proportions of these funds be allocated locally through Community Development Block Grants.
Since the early 1980s, public policies have encouraged the private, nonprofit sector to respond to the social service needs of America's poorest citizens. In fact, direct assistance to the homeless has arisen primarily from the philanthropic efforts of private, nonprofit agencies, particularly from the nation's religious organizations.
In Albuquerque and throughout the state of New Mexico, religious groups have been the backbone of, and major force behind provision of, basic services to the area's homeless. The effectiveness of this arrangement for direct assistance to homeless people may have serious implications for public policy formulation and fulfillment. Where service provision has become the province of religious organizations, and where there is a gap between public sector arrangements and religious organizations as central service providers, it is possible for goods and services to