The 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients: A Comparison of Faith-Based and Secular Non-Profit Programs. Program Contacts


In addition to documenting numbers (and types) of programs, the NSHAPC survey asked program administrators about how many people they expected to serve through their program on an average day in February 1996.  Summing these estimates across all programs (or across programs of a given type) yields an estimate of the total number of “program contacts” on an average day in February 1996.  Nationally, this figure is about 3 million contacts on a given day (see Table 2), with food programs accounting for slightly more than one-half of these contacts (1.6 million), housing programs for about 600,000, health programs for about 140,000, and other programs for about 700,000.

Table 2:
Comparison of NSHAPC Programs and Program Contacts
by Type of Agency Operating Programs
  Total Faith-Based Non-Profit Secular Non-Profit Government
All Types 36,674 (100%) 34.4 51.1 14.5
Housing 14,371 (100%) 26.3 60.3 13.4
Food 12,410 (100%) 55.7 39.1 5.2
Health 2,405 (100%) 5.4 43.0 51.6
Other 7,488 (100%) 23.7 56.0 20.2
Programs Contacts
All Types 3,022,492 (100%) 37.8 45.8 16.4
Housing 600,422 (100%) 29.9 54.8 15.4
Food 1,586,978 (100%) 53.1 44.9 2.0
Health 140,665 (100%) 4.8 41.5 53.7
Other 694,427 (100%) 16.1 41.0 42.9

Source:  Urban Institute analysis of NSHAPC program data.  Data represent an "average day in February 1996."

It is important to understand that estimates of “program contacts” are not the same as numbers of people or even service units.  One individual may use both an emergency shelter and a soup kitchen on a given day, while a second person eats breakfast at a drop-in center, lunch at a soup kitchen, and is then contacted by a mobile food program at night.  Both the emergency shelter and the soup kitchen would report the first person as a “person served,” and the drop-in center, soup kitchen, and mobile food program would each report the second person as a “person served.”  The sum of these reports far exceeds the two people actually served on that day and is not, therefore, an estimate of the number of people served.  Nor are “program contacts” the same as “service units.”  A person can often access a variety of services at a single location.  For example, a person staying at an emergency shelter might receive food, healthcare, and a place to sleep.  Each service received by that person would be counted as a “service unit.”  The emergency shelter made one “program contact” with the person staying at the shelter, but delivered multiple “service units” (a night’s accommodation, a meal, and a health care visit).

Comparisons of numbers of programs and program contacts by general program type and administering agency are presented in Table 2 and Figure 2.  Table 2 shows that the two sets of distributions are very similar, but it is interesting to note that faith-based non-profits are responsible for a somewhat higher share of all program contacts (38 percent) than programs (34 percent).  This is probably because food programs (the majority of which are run by faith-based organizations) are more likely than other types of programs to see large numbers of people on a given day.  There are no major differences in these findings by urban-rural status or region.

Figure 2:
A Comparison of Programs and Program Contacts:

Distribution of Programs

Figure 2a: A Comparison of Programs and Program Contacts: Distribution of Programs

Figure 2b: A Comparison of Programs and Program Contacts: Distribution of Programs