Churches like this one are not serving the homeless
The Crystal Cathedral was completed in 1981 at a cost of $18 million, it seated a whopping 2,736 people. Following bankruptcy by the original owners, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange bought the building for $57.5 million. The diocese reports that, “Three and one-half percent of Orange County school children are homeless, live in shelters, double up with other families, reside in motels or campgrounds.” (Credit: Crystal Cathedral) CC BY-SA 3.0

With over 300,000 churches, why does America have a homeless problem?

We have so many pressing social problems in our nation, like poverty and hunger. Why aren’t religious orders leading the way in providing the much needed safety net?

Regardless of what role government should play, shouldn’t charity begin and end with our religious institutions?

We tend to think of providing the more traditional services you would expect like food banks, soup kitchens and shelters.  What about other needed services for the poor? Programs like education, clothing, healthcare, dental and vision services, transportation, elder care, and child care?

Estimates place those living in poverty at 13.5%. The government defines poverty as an individual making at or below $12,140 a year in most places.

Of course someone trying to survive on $1,000 a month needs a place to sleep. So why aren’t more churches opening their doors to fill the need?

With so many churches, why is anyone in America needy?

There has been a lot of public debate about the tax exempt status of churches. In the case of Walz vs. Tax Commission of the City of New York, the Supreme court ruled churches should be tax exempt. The reasoning was that there would be too much government entanglement otherwise. Insert here the usual arguments about separation of church and state. Too bad we don’t apply that same dynamic to journalism.

Maybe instead of discussing taxing churches, perhaps we should be discussing why our religious institutions are failing in this regard.

There are 2 Homeless People for Every Church

Although the actual statistics are a bit murky, there are about two people living on the streets for every congregation enjoying a tax-free ride in society. Every community has big, fancy buildings which sit empty every night, and many days during the week. This figure does not include seminaries, schools, religious charities and real estate owned by these organizations. Most churches don’t see much use except Saturdays or Sundays and the occasional holy day. These buildings are sometimes outfitted with the facilities that could serve the homeless. Many churches have commercial kitchens, large dining rooms, bath houses, gymnasiums and libraries.

The issue is a much larger one than just homelessness. Why are more and more people struggling with real, solvable problems and yet our religious organizations are not stepping up to the plate?



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Shelly Fagan

Shelly Fagan is a freelance writer living in Arizona. She is passionate about American politics, business, universal basic income and worker rights. Follow her on Twitter @FaganWrites or on Medium at

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