As Ignatian Spirituality Project marks 15 years of retreats aimed at ending homelessness, study shows statistical evidence of its effectiveness.
How many Americans are homeless on a given day? It’s hard to know because, by its very nature, homelessness is difficult to measure. The estimates that can be captured, however, are grim. The most recently available national “point-in-time” data put the number at more than 633,000 people in January 2012.
The reasons are complex and the factors diverse, but one thing is clear: Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) has been helping homeless people build community, find hope, and transform their lives since 1998.
Developed by the ministry’s founders – Fr. Bill Creed, SJ, a renowned and experienced spiritual director, and Ed Shurna, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – ISP retreats were designed to help persons who are both homeless and in recovery find meaning and purpose as they reclaim their lives.
“Many outreach programs for the homeless try to address basic attributes such as food, clothing, shelter and employment. These programs are vital to combating homelessness,” says Fr. Creed. “However, when addiction is in play – and it often is for the homeless – there can be no real transition from poverty until the individual person has the inner resources to make different choices, or in 12-Step language, until the spiritual malady is overcome.”
“Ignatian Spirituality believes that facing our brokenness begins with facing our truth and encountering the unconditional love of our God who actively labors with us and desires for us ever greater freedom,” he adds.
Over the past 15 years, ISP has grown into a national network of teams who help men and women share their individual stories, exploring issues of fear and trust, healing memories, spending time in nature, and experiencing prayer. In 20 cities across the country, more than 400 laypeople volunteer in this ministry and well over 1,000 partners support it financially.
Programs include weekend retreats away, days of reflection, and ongoing spiritual companionship to continue the transformation forged on retreats. All invite a deepening connection to one’s true self and a greater sense of intimacy with God and with the larger community.
While ISP leaders had long witnessed the positive impact of the retreats, they sought additional information to “prove” the efficacy of the program.
“Through the years, we knew many former retreatants were living productive and sober lives,” explains ISP Executive Director Tom Drexler. “And though we had plenty of anecdotal evidence that the ISP retreat works, we wanted statistical data as well to measure the impact of our ministry in a different way.”
To this end, with the collaboration of a number of organizations and professionals, ISP conducted a two-year study. Completed in June 2012, The ISP Outcomes Survey confirmed that people who participate in the ISP retreat and spiritual companionship process experience long-term internal and external change. Results correlated the ISP retreat with progress from silence, isolation, alienation and joblessness to communication, companionship and community.
More specifically, six months after a retreat, participants experienced a statistically significant decrease in loneliness and improvement in housing and employment.
The ISP hopes the research findings will cause some rethinking of the conventional ways to assist homeless people.
“The most important thing is that we’re making a difference,” Tom concluded. “And now we have the numbers to prove it.”
A Jesuit Ministry Offering Spiritual Retreats to End Homelessness
(Above) Tom Drexler and (below) Bill Creed, SJ lead retreats for men.
Five-Fold Approach of the Ignatian Spirituality Project
1. We offer retreats inspired by Ignatian Spirituality to those who are homeless and seeking recovery.
2. We form teams with men and women who are homeless to conduct Ignatian retreats, offer witness, and provide spiritual companionship.
3. We reach out to new cities to build and form retreat teams to offer our programs.
4. We seek to further our established national network of dedicated volunteers to respond to the spiritual needs of those who are homeless.
5. We collaborate with communities and agencies working to end the injustice of homelessness.
Participants of a Women's Retreat held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.