Theology Crawl Discussion Guide - The Unhoused and Unsheltered

July 25, 2023

Welcome to Theology Crawl

Yes, being in a conversation with drinks is fun, but we need some guidelines as you enter into conversation with one another:

Everyone is not right, and that's a good thing.

The concepts we talk about in theology can have multiple interpretations, but that doesn't mean they're all right. A lot of theology is investigating the words we use to see if they make sense and are if they're adequate for God. Being wrong is how we improve our theology, not by having all the answers.

Pay attention to how people are using words.

We all use words like “love,” “God,” and “grace,” but the the reality is we often mean vastly different things. Try to listen to how people use words and if they're using them the same way you would.

Ask for people to define what they mean.

We can't have a good conversation if we are all talking past each other. It's not embarrassing to ask people for a definitional a new word or concept, it's just how you have a good conversation.

Make this work for you.

Have someone in the group keep an eye on the questions and try to make sure you're staying on topic. At the same time, it's fine to go down the rabbit holes. Sometimes, the rabbit holes can help us clarify something that we missed.

Have fun.

You won't solve world hunger, you probably won't even convince that person in the group you disagree with. Relax, be respectful, and when the questions run out, enjoy yourself and talk about something that isn't theological. Hanging out can actually be pretty important for good theology too!

Starting Question

  • What are some of the messages you have been told about individuals experiencing homelessness? What are the initial causes that come to mind when you think about individuals or families experiencing homelessness?


  • Housing instability encompasses a number of challenges, such as having trouble paying rent, overcrowding, moving frequently, or spending the bulk of household income on housing. 
  • Homelessness: Homelessness is a broader term that refers to the condition of individuals or families who lack stable and adequate housing. A person is considered homeless if they do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, which can include living in shelters, transitional housing, or places not meant for human habitation, such as the streets or abandoned buildings. Homelessness can result from various factors, such as poverty, unemployment, mental health issues, substance abuse, family conflicts, or lack of affordable housing.
  • Houselessness: Houselessness is a more specific term that focuses on the absence of physical shelter or a dwelling. It refers to the state of not having a house or a place to live, regardless of whether the individual or family has access to other essential resources or support services. Houselessness emphasizes the lack of a specific physical structure to call home.
  • 582,462 individuals are experiencing homelessness in America, an increase of about 2,000 people since the last complete census conducted in 2020.
  • About 30 percent of people without homes are experiencing chronic patterns of homelessness. This means they’ve been without homes for more than 12 months or have experienced extended periods of extended homelessness over the past three years.
Causes of Homelessness:
  • Lack of affordable housing: Insufficient affordable housing options, coupled with rising rental costs, can force individuals and families into homelessness. Limited availability of low-income housing exacerbates this issue.
  • Poverty and unemployment: Economic factors, such as poverty, unemployment, or underemployment, can make it difficult for individuals to secure stable housing. Lack of financial resources can lead to eviction or prevent individuals from affording rent or mortgage payments.
  • Mental illness and substance abuse: Individuals struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse disorders may face a higher risk of homelessness. These conditions can disrupt relationships, employment, and overall stability, making it challenging to maintain housing.
  • Domestic violence: Survivors of domestic violence often face the difficult decision of leaving their homes to escape abusive situations. The lack of safe and affordable housing options can contribute to homelessness among this vulnerable population.
  • Family and relationship breakdown: Conflict, strained relationships, or breakdowns within families or support networks can leave individuals without a stable place to live. Disruptions within these social networks can contribute to homelessness.
  • Systemic issues and structural factors: Broader social and systemic issues, such as discrimination, inequality, and gaps in social services, can contribute to homelessness. Inadequate healthcare, education, and job training opportunities can limit individuals' ability to secure stable housing.
  • Discharge from institutions: Individuals leaving institutions such as prisons, hospitals, or foster care without appropriate housing and support may be at a higher risk of homelessness due to a lack of transitional resources.
  • The federal government through the New Deal program funded the construction of public housing in the mid- to late 1930s and after World War II. In Boston proper, the U.S. government bankrolled the construction of 25 public housing projects, most of them segregated by race—either by project or by sections of a project.
  • The segregation in federally funded housing projects wasn’t limited to Boston proper: In 1935, about 100 families, both Black and white, were evicted from a 160,000-square-foot tract right near where Kendall Square lies today, their homes razed to make room for what would be the first public housing project to open in New England: New Towne Court. Three years later, on a snowy January day, after the movers had unloaded tenants’ possessions at the opening, that same section of Cambridge was 100 percent white, and Black people were not allowed to live there. The federal government had taken an integrated neighborhood and segregated it.
  • This wasn’t the only, or the most far-reaching, U.S. government policy that ensured Boston remained a segregated city. In 1933, the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was established to refinance Depression-era homes in danger of foreclosure. In order to better gauge risk for these mortgages, the HOLC designed a uniform and highly detailed system of neighborhood appraisals in major cities across the nation, breaking them up into small segments, rating them, and color-coding them on a map based on whether appraisers believed they were likely to increase or decrease in value. Among the main criteria for sorting areas into these categories were the race and ethnicity of their inhabitants.
  • The result in Boston? Despite the fact that the HOLC acknowledged a section of Roxbury had good transportation, schools, and proximity to jobs, the agency gave it a “hazardous” rating, coloring it red due to the “infiltration of negros.” A neighborhood in Cambridge that had some “high class apartments” received a “definitely declining label” and was colored in yellow, because, as the notes detail, “A few negro families have moved in on Dame St. and threaten to spread.” In a Milton neighborhood, where notes include a comment that there was only “one negro family,” the HOLC granted the area a “still desirable” rating, and colored it blue, while a stretch of Jamaica Plain that had zero Black residents and was only being infiltrated by “desirables” got a “best” rating, and was colored green.
  • These government maps proved highly influential among private-sector mortgage lenders, who routinely declined to finance homes in red and even yellow districts, giving rise to the concept and the name of “redlining.” This, in turn, not only locked Black people out of homeownership but also ensured that white people had a financial interest in keeping them out of their neighborhoods.
  • Because the FHA believed that property values would diminish if Black people moved into a neighborhood, its underwriting manual provided a guideline stating that “properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes,” and the agency routinely declined to insure developments that weren’t exclusively white or were too close or accessible to Black neighborhoods.
Opioid Crisis
  • In 2014, the City of Boston suddenly condemned and shut down the Long Island Bridge, which had connected the mainland of Greater Boston to hundreds of City-run emergency shelter and recovery beds on Long Island. With no prior infrastructure planning and just a three-hour window to evacuate more than a thousand people off the island, most of the emergency shelter beds were hastily relocated to the South End in the area near Boston Medical Center. This section of the city at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard has since struggled as a worsening epicenter of substance use, homelessness, and mental illness, while the opiate and homelessness crisis has grown citywide.
  • Across Massachusetts, the highest increase in opioid-related deaths has been among Black men, and the crisis has been worsened by the prevalence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
  • Although drug abuse and mental illness can be a cause for homelessness, most individuals without housing are not mentally ill (~1⁄3) and the majority do not have a substance abuse problem (~20 - 40 percent.)
  • What programs are available for individuals? Some programs that address housing instability occur at the federal and state level. Housing subsidies administered by the federal government provide financial assistance to help low-income people pay rent. Boston is launching a program to support landlords who rent to Boston households moving out of homelessness. We provide signing bonuses, holding fees, and a dedicated customer service provider.
  • Massachusetts is one of two states in the country that provides the "right to shelter" for families. This means that if a person is a resident of the State and has a child, they cannot by law be left out in the cold. Because of this, Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of unsheltered persons with children in the nation.
  • 22,128 Homeless Households (Those who are sheltered in an emergency shelter, Safe Haven, or transitional housing)
  • 34,579 People Experiencing Homelessness in 2022
  • 9% Unsheltered (on the streets, in cars, tents, and other places not meant for living)

Discussion Questions

  • Are there any causes of homelessness that you may have not considered before?
  • Have you known someone who experienced homelessness? Without getting into names, what were the circumstances that caused that person to be unhoused?
  • How does redlining relate to the current housing disparities and economic challenges faced by residents in historically redlined areas?
  • How did redlining impact Boston's communities, especially minority neighborhoods?
  • Is gentrification a good thing or a bad thing? What are the potential benefits and drawbacks?  
  • How does someone who experiences addiction or poor mental health get caught in a cycle of homelessness that is hard to break out of?
  • Question about mental health.
  • Here is a list of proposed organizations around the unhoused and unsheltered that Reunion is considering partnering with:
  1. Boston Healthcare for the Homeless
  2. Miracle Mile Ministries
  3. Breaktime
  4. One the Rise

How are these organizations addressing the needs of people?


  • 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? // Isa. 58:6–7
  • 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. // Deut. 24:19–22
  • 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.// Luke 3:11
  • 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. // Matt. 25:41–45

Further Readings and Resources

The Reunion Team

We are a church who helps people discover Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. Together we want to help all of the greater Boston area to experience the transformative love of Jesus.

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