War on Homelessness at a Stalemate: Findings from the Association of Gospel Rescue Mission’s 25th Annual Snapshot Survey

Share Article

1 in 3 seeking help at rescue missions across North America are facing homelessness for the first time

Rescue missions have proven themselves quite nimble in dealing with the many people who are new to homelessness each year. --John Ashmen, President, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions

A new survey of rescue missions across North America indicates that among the homeless individuals served by rescue missions, more than one in three adults who seek help are facing homelessness for the first time.

These results were noted in the 25th Annual Snapshot Survey from the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM), which provides a one-day count of those being served by rescue missions. The October 2014 survey, taken at 135 missions throughout North America, tabulated responses from more than 20,000 individuals served.

This year’s study revealed that 37 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as “never before homeless.” The most telling thing about this finding is that it has remained consistent (and has even slightly increased) over the past four years—despite the many government and privately funded programs designed to decrease and ultimately eliminate the number of people experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

“Rescue missions are glad to be in the fight to end homelessness with so many other fine organizations,” says AGRM President John Ashmen, “but it’s frustrating to see these stubborn numbers. Nearly every mission that I visit,” continues Ashmen, “is filling its shelter beds every night of the week, plus putting people on cots in common areas. Fortunately, rescue missions have proven themselves quite nimble in dealing with the many people who are new to homelessness each year.”

According to a HUD study, “The Costs Associated with First-Time Homelessness for Families and Individuals,” first-time homeless people seeking assistance tend to be in and out of assistance programs more quickly than their chronically homeless counterparts (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research). Subgroups within the first-time homeless group also show that extreme poverty or economic crisis are more likely causes of their homelessness than substance abuse or mental health issues.

“When the general public pictures homelessness,” notes Ashmen, “the image is usually of individuals who have spent a lifetime fighting the undertow of addiction. Such folks definitely are part of the scene, but we have to remember that the economy is still a huge factor. Many of the people visiting a rescue mission tonight,” he points out, “never knew a month ago that they would be looking for lodging in such a place.”

Ashmen adds, “Rescue missions will continue to have an important role in meeting the challenges of the first-time homeless. Missions offer individual attention that can prevent these individuals and families from becoming chronically homeless, and can help them find options to stabilize their lives—including emergency assistance, health care, job and life-skills training—which is tangible help. Missions also provide spiritual support, which is long-term hope. That’s why rescue missions are so unique in these settings and perhaps why 81 percent of those surveyed say they prefer to seek help from an agency that has a spiritual emphasis.”

This year’s Snapshot Survey also provided some other interesting results among the more than 20,000 people responding. One finding that might run against a stereotype often held by those outside the homeless community is the degree of education of those who are homeless. Of the adults surveyed, 69 percent have a high school diploma or above. In fact, 21 percent have some college education.

Additionally, 84 percent of those surveyed say they are currently homeless, and 84 percent visit the mission every day. In other words, the local rescue mission is their daily source of services for sustainability.

Further, three of four of those surveyed are male, 46 percent are above the age of 46, nearly half are white, and 86 percent are single.

Visit http://www.agrm.org/2014snapshot for a statistical comparison of the survey’s findings from the last four years.


Now in its 102nd year, AGRM has nearly 300 rescue mission members across North America. AGRM members serve approximately 50 million meals, provide 25 million nights of shelter and housing, distribute 30 million pieces of clothing, bandage the wounds of hundreds of abuse victims, and graduate more than 20,000 homeless men and women from addiction recovery programs into productive living.

Rescue missions have been providing hospitality to the poor in America since the 1870s. They are experts at providing effective care for men, women, and children who are hungry, homeless, abused, or addicted.

AGRM is North America’s oldest and largest network of crisis shelters and rehabilitation centers, offering radical hospitality in the name of Jesus. For more information, please visit http://www.agrm.org.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Brad Lewis, Director of Communications
since: 07/2009
Follow >
Visit website