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Charles Richmond Henderson.

Introduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment online

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character and conditions that they are not all proper subjects of
charity; some, at the top, are generally able to care for them-
selves, and others, at the bottom, are subjects of penal law rather
than of relief systems. For those who belong to the highest
ranks society is bound to provide through better industrial
arrangements; while the prison treatment is naturally the proper
agent for dealing with the lawless.

But representatives of all these classes come together in the office
of the charity society or of public relief, and our theoretical divi-
sions can be made actual only by the use of suitable tests in the
hands of careful and capable investigators. Some of the poor
who are proud and unbroken in spirit stay at home and starve, or
sink under diseases caused by defective food; while clamorous
beggars, accustomed to the art, carry the office by storms of
browbeating or canting pretensions to poverty.

2. Causes of Unemployment. — The causes vary with classes
and with years. We may note some of the more general and
important. There are the maladjustments of industry; some
due to physical factors, only partially under human control, as
rigorous climates, drouth, and floods. Other industrial malad-
justments are due to social arrangements, customs, and ideas.
Here we may think of commercial crises and periods of depres-
sion which follow over-speculation; strikes and lockouts which
arise from conflicts of class judgments and feelings in relation to



86 Relief and Care of Dependents.

wages, in the absence of a judicial method of determining the
question in a civilized way; arbitrary and capricious changes in
fashions which at times crowd certain workers to excessive strain
and sickness, and then leave them stranded and penniless for
weary months; miscalculation as to the number of persons
demanded in a given trade at a certain period and place; mis-
takes of great bodies of working-men in regard to the best
places for labor; and over-population in congested districts.
The full discussion of these causes and remedies belongs to
theoretical economics, to practical economic politics, and to
industrial sociology.

One effect of enforced idleness should be considered: the
habit of voluntary tramping. Idleness, even when it is at first
involuntary, comes to be liked. Vitality is lowered by the
diminution of proper nourishment, by the vices of indolence,
by irregularity. Home bonds are broken, self-respect is
lowered, and degrading associations are formed.

Personal defects are causes: disease and weakness from
heredity, vice, ignorance, neglect, climate, exposure, mental
incapacity. Many tramps are criminals in disposition; and,
having failed in the business of crime, because they lacked skill
or courage, take to vagrancy and mendicancy for a livelihood.
Family and society having neglected to train in habits and skill
for industry, the wanderer learns a new art and plies it with
varying success. And there is the great, awkward, sentimental,
unthinking Public, which seems never able to learn, bribing and
hiring the youth to become a tramp by means of its unsystem-
atic, impulsive, unreflecting doles of alms and broken victuals
and old clothes at the door.

3. Methods of Relief and Treatment. — In the chapters on
outdoor relief and the poorhouse we have studied the methods
actually in use in the United States for the relief of wander-
ing dependents, and we must deal with them again when we
study private charities. In this place we shall seek to present
in a coherent and comprehensive plan the modes by which all



The Unemployed and Homeless Dependents. 87

agencies, public and private, may cooperate most effectively on
behalf of the unemployed.

Social obligation. — There are difificulties in the way of ad-
mitting, in any absolute sense, the claim of the unemployed,
as against society, to "the right to work." It is very easy to
declare that the community ought to furnish aid to all who need,
and that by furnishing employment to those able to work. But
it is not so easy to show how this can be done without creating
greater misery than it is sought to relieve. What is impossible
is not obligatory, and those who claim the right to work must
show how it is possible to provide it.

It is one thing to hasten needed social improvements in times
of depression, and thus give partial relief of temporary distress;
it is quite another to admit the duty of society to provide work
which is not needed, for all who demand it, when and where
they choose, and at trade union rates. If all the unemployed
were thus set to work at state cost, then two consequences would
follow: extraordinary and continually rising cost, because labor
for which there is no economic demand is not removed from the
market, and a reflex action on all classes, which might lead to a
complete revolution of the relations of labor and poor relief.
There are striking and familiar historic illustrations of the evils
of confusing relief and the wage question. The English poor
laws, which were called Gilbert's Act (1782), extended the pub-
lic relief principle to normal industry, by promoting the payment
of outdoor relief where wages were not adequate for support.
Immediately the employers lowered wages and sent their hands
to the relieving officer for the subsidy. There was danger of
debasing the entire working population of England. The Revo-
lutionists of Paris, in 1848, sought to accomplish the same end
from the other side; they opened workshops and promised
remunerative occupation to all who applied. Thousands who
liked to live in Paris streamed into the city and crowded every
place, until the government met a problem which all its wealth
and power could not solve. Public employment became poor



88 Relief and Care of Dependents.

relief. In both instances this unnatural arrangement was an
injury to free labor, lowered wages, caused a congestion of
superfluous labor in the wrong places, increased idleness and
thriftlessness, riots, disturbances, and vice.

Charity, public and private, must proceed quite independently
of this controversy over the speculation about the "right to
work." It does not pretend to enter that dispute. It sees
misery and seeks to relieve it by the best means which experi-
ence has taught. It proceeds on the assumption that it is wiser
to give relief in return for productive, useful industry, where
this can be furnished economically and without unduly disturb-
ing those who are supporting themselves. The mooted topic is
left to political and economic science for solution.

The "right to work," in the last analysis, means the right to
live. Our poor laws actually recognize the right of the living to
live. A human being cannot live a life worthy of humanity
without rational industry. We may admit, then, the right to
live by work, to the living. The Socialists would attempt to
adjust all industry for all citizens by some scheme of community
control over all. It is conceivable that their plan might be made
to work, although it would seem to involve such stringent limita-
tions of personal initiative as to practically destroy individual
freedom. Short of Socialism, we already admit the duty of
society to save the living from starvation; and when competi-
tive, free industry is not procurable, the duty of furnishing the
necessaries of existence in return for work, or even without
work, in case of feebleness.

Socialists and Individualists may both safely accept the doctrine
of support on two conditions : that society reserves the right to
prevent the propagation of more of the unemployable classes; and
that social agents direct where and how. those supported shall
work. To build workshops in cities and pay market wages to all
applicants would invite national ruin. If the collective system
should ever displace the competitive system, it would be com-
pelled, in that "state of the future," to limit the numbers of the



The Unemployed and Homeless Dependents. 89

population by artificial and rigorous measures, and to dictate
exactly the place of residence, the kind of work, the wages, and
all the rest of life conduct.

The Methods of Relief actually in Use in Normal Times must be
analyzed and subjected to criticism in the light of principles
derived from wide experience.

First of all comes into view the almost universal custom of
giving individual doles at the door or on the street, without
investigation, without knowledge of the beggar, and without con-
trol of his use of the money. Giving without knowledge is, in its
effects, like administering powerful medicines in the dark; and
the effect of such impatient and impulsive payment for escape
from importunity is a direct bid for vagabondage. A little better
is the . work done by societies which assist all comers, without
investigation or work test, as in mission lodging-houses, which
furnish bean soup and free beds. Some of the missions charge
a small sum to mitigate the evil. The Charity Organization
Societies are seeking to deal with tramps in a more systematic
and rational way, by providing work tests and by assisting the
wanderer to find some sort of regular employment. But there
are still lacking the elements of completeness and control.

One of the worst methods is that of cities which furnish free
lodgings in cold winter nights in police stations, and permit all
sorts of men to sleep on the stone floors, packed closely together,
— the penniless youth from the country with the vermin-infested
vagabond, whose breath is foul and whose whole personality is
the centre of moral contagion. This method is cruel, inhumane,
dangerous to public health, and debasing to all concerned.
When men can come and depart without even giving their
names, without pledge of honest effort, without one redeeming
act of real effort toward a better way, the city is disgraced in the
eyes of all persons who are informed.

Another great abuse is the custom of giving free transportation
to those wanderers who profess a willingness to clear the town of
their presence. If public officials can send away tramps at the



^O Relief and Care of Dependents.

cost of a railroad they often imagine they have favored the dear
taxpayers. But the system is merely a stupid barter of bad
specimens, with additional expense for gratuitous travel.

The county poorhouse is a temporary resort of the fraternity of
irresponsible travellers during the inclement winter, when the
green pastures and the haystacks do not furnish comfortable
lodgings. When the birds of spring migrate from the South,
these human birds of passage take to the highways and leave the
superintendent without help in early gardening. Sometimes
the jail is the public hotel for tramps, and there is no great
hardship in passing the stormy weeks in playing cards and eating
regular meals at public cost. This also is a method whose
description is its condemnation.

Occasionally we learn that outraged communities resort, legally
or otherwise, to those cruel repressive measures which were
common in former and less enlightened ages. It is utterly vain
to subject vagabonds to whipping, dungeons, or starvation in
cells, unless the compassionate public is entirely certain that
these men have been offered occupation and have refused to
labor for the means of existence. The almsgivers are as hard to
suppress as tramps, and they will give, from fear or from pity,
if there is not a humane and rational provision for the victims of
unkind fate. A just community will not permit even rascals to
suffer if there is danger of leaving an occasional honest man
without a real chance to help himself. Every attempt to bring
back these savage, mediaeval methods ends in failure.

Among the direct palliative measures most to be commended
are those wayfarers' lodges which offer food and beds in return
for some labor at a simple task which any strong man, without
skill, can perform.

A municipal lodging-house may safely provide rest and refresh-
ment to weary pilgrims of all kinds on certain reasonable condi-
tions: every man must submit to a spray bath, must permit the
officers to disinfect his clothing, must show his sincerity by seek-
ing employment at designated places and by faithful performance



The Unemployed and Homeless Dependents. 91

of tasks assigned. If he shirks work the police arrest him for
vagrancy, and he goes to the workhouse. This system has been
fomid a great aid to the police in the suppression of vagrancy;
but it is not adequate, and we must add other features.

Other methods were brought to light in a conference of Massachusetts relief
officers in November, 1900.1 Towns were reported which shelter and feed
tramps, or shelter only, but make a practice of taking before a court on second
or third applications, or posting the vagrant law, or warning to leave town.
Others discourage by indirect means, usually by not giving food or by placing
the tramp house far from the centre of the town. One town refers them to an
almshouse six miles away, and another provides a small building in the local
cemetery, which is not popular. In certain places help was refused except to
the sick or on occasion of stormy weather.

The objection to all such merely repressive schemes is that they are likely
to be too severe on honest men seeking employment, and that kind-hearted
people, knowing that the difficulty of securing relief is almost prohibitory, will
continue to give alms at the door. This fear of doing injustice has a certain
basis in experience. It was asserted by an overseer of Boston that sixty per cent
of the whole number lodged in 1899 were probably really seeking employment.

Children and youth should not be sent to mingle with adult
vagrants, but to separate lodging-houses, specially adapted to
their needs.

Outline of a more Adequate System. — From description and
criticism we pass to principles of amelioration, of higher organi-
zation to meet the demands of collective wisdom in this field.
Such a system must provide for emergency relief, for ordinary con-
ditions, and for prevention. The methods must aim to provide for
education and training, for deterrent motives, for material help,
for custody of the dangerous, and for better social conditions.

Emergency Relief, — Exceptional conditions justify and re-
quire special and temporary methods. The chief principles
regulative of emergency relief are : investigation of every appli-
cation by a Charity Organization Society, never by the police.
The mark of crime should not be set upon any man until it has
been proved that he deserves it.

1 Charities Review, January, 1901, p. 493.



92 Relief and Care of Dependents.

Starvation cases should be relieved instantly by orders covering
only the necessities of life; and these orders should be renewed
at intervals of a few days. This relief should be in kind, not in
money; and store orders are permissible if the articles are not
kept in stock by the relieving agency. Food and clothing
should be in shape for immediate use. Often cooked food is
necessary, where the family is not able to prepare it. As quickly
and completely as possible work should be organized to pay for
the relief. It is desirable that this work be "^productive, rational,
and not mere make-believe work. It should be non-competitive,
temporary, with wages at lower rates than those of the local labor
market, so that men will be absorbed in regular industry as
rapidly as business revives, and it should be adapted to the un-
skilled and to men of all trades. Public works which are likely to
be useful and necessary may be hastened at such times, even if
money is borrowed for the purpose, since the economy of cheaper
labor may be a justifying reason. Private employment on
grounds and improvements may properly be hastened for the
same reason. Thus streets, parks, drives, cleaning, draining,
may be pushed forward at such periods, where there is a sur-
plus of unemployed labor; for thus community wealth will be
increased permanently, while the wage-workers are saved from
demoralization, and regular business is not disturbed. It is
easier, however, to state these principles than to embody them
in administration in specific instances. The principles are
sound, and inventive, capable men have many times put them
into practice.

Regular relief of the unemployed in normal times and for resi-
dents requires different methods. Among the devices which
conform to sound principles may be mentioned the loan method.
It has been found that honesty and good habits can be capital-
ized in days of distress. Provident loan societies, carefully
managed, investigate all applicants for small sums, lend on per-
sonal security or chattel mortgage, at low rates, and lose so little
that a moderate profit is returned to stockholders. Such semi-



The Unemployed and Homeless Dependents. 93

philanthropic societies succeed with a limited class of laboring
men, and help to keep many a worthy person from the clutches
of the pawnbroker.

The vegetable garden method ("Pingree potato patch") is a
device which suits the situation where there is plenty of acces-
sible, unoccupied land suitable for tillage, and where there is
also considerable labor force unemployed and ready for action.
The management may be in the hands of a commission appointed
by the mayor, or under the control of agents of the Charity
Organization Society^ or similar association. Not infrequently
the gardeners produce enough vegetables to supply their winter
needs, learn a new and valuable occupation, and are even attracted
to turn their faces from the crowded city slum to the fresh and
inviting life of the country.

F7-ee Employment Bureau. — The experience of the former
New York Employment Society^ leads its officers to these con-
clusions : —

The free labor bureau is an important factor in philanthropic
work. There are many capable, trustworthy men thrown out of
work by business changes, or other circumstances beyond their
control, who are practically unable to secure another position
for which they are fitted. The bureau gives hope to the honest
but despondent man, and exposes the impostor.

Such a bureau should be free from connection with a relief
society. Many men, whom the bureau would like to help, will
not avail themselves of the privilege, desiring to be independent
of charitable relief even in this indirect form. The employing
class assumes that lower wages can be paid because the men are
evidently in need of work. In public bureaus it should be a
rule in the case of strikes and lockouts, to give aid to neither side.
Neutrality is necessary in such contests, as with the Red Cross
corps of nurses in the army.

Preference should be given to resident applicants, so as to
avoid attracting immigrants to an already crowded city, to the

1 Charities, Dec. 22, 1900, pp. i ff.



94 Relief and Care of Dependents.

competent rather than the shiftless, to men of character rather
than to tramps, and to married men before single men. The
practice of these rules by a bureau of course leaves work for other
agencies, which will care specially for the vagrants and incom-
petent. Separate agencies and different methods are required
for the latter.

There are many cases in which material relief is far better
than an offer of work. It is not always possible to "make work "
for all, and an attempt may simply displace efficient workers and
push into industry the incompetent. A part of the difficulty is in
the forced competition of the unfit with the adapted. Here we
must face squarely the problem of elimination of the unemploy-
able from parasitic industries. The indiscriminate and unflinch-
ing use of the workhouse test, which offers the alternative of
giving able, bodied persons the choice between compulsory labor
in an institution and starvation, is open to serious objections.
Public and private outdoor relief may sometimes find other tests
of the willingness to work of the resident poor, and give them
partial support for a brief time, until the adults can provide for
their wants by regular industry, and have a free chance to find
it. If offered work is refused, it will be proper to arrest for
vagrancy and refusal to support the family.

4. The Vagrant Residuum. — Regular relief in normal times
must be provided for homeless, wandering men and women.
Labor bureaus have a certain restricted value. Private bureaus
at the offices of charitable societies usually reach helpfully only
those who are incompetent, feeble, or irregular. They are
avoided by efficient workmen and by employers who are seeking
skill and efficiency. Wherever it is possible, such bureaus should
be in a place quite separate from offices of relief. State bureaus
of employment are not open to this objection, as they are not
""suspected of having the charitable taint. They are rather
preventive than relieving agencies. Just when they are most
needed, however, they are apt to fail, that is, in times of depres-
sion; although even then they may direct laborers to points where



The Unemployed and Homeless Dependents. 95

demand is greatest. No dependent person should be furnished
transportation from one place to another until employment or
other stable provision has been secured.

Some sort of a work test, adequate and on a large scale, if
necessary, should be used to discriminate the willing from the
lazy. This may be a simple industry, like stone breaking, if a
convenient and occasional device is required. Or it may be
a direction to seek work, perhaps by the aid of a list of places
open, or by the advertising notices in the morning newspaper.
If the person refuses to seek or take work he should, if able
bodied, be delivered to the police magistrates for commitment
to a workhouse, as a misdemeanant under the vagrant statute.
It has already been urged that every county poorhouse should pro-
vide such work tests, and that in close connection with police
courts and officers. Charitable societies sometimes provide
woodyards as simple forms of industry, and have friendly inns
for lodging the shelterless in return for work done.

Each city should provide a municipal lodging-house, to sup-
plement private lodging-houses and charitable inns. Such an
establishment should be fully equipped to furnish spray baths,
disinfection of clothing, decent beds, plain food, opportunity
of seeking employment under careful agents, and transportation
for those who have reasonable prospect of occupation. It should
be understood by the great awkward public that every wander-
ing, penniless, homeless person can have a public shelter; that
begging is absolutely without excuse in necessity; and then only
will people refuse to give indiscriminate doles at every crossing,
— a custom which is one of the chief causes of the tramp habit.

Police stations should never be used for shelter of the home-
less. This is to confuse relief with punishment, add to the hor-
rors of charity, diminish the deterrent influence of penalty, and
multiply the evils of contagious disease and of evil example and
association.

Training must be given to the capable and willing who have
no skill and cannot market their labor. This training may be



96 Relief and Care of Dependents.

mechanical or agricultural. Private charity has here a function
and duty. The Salvation Army has some value in connection
with a section of this class. All who are willing to come under
a religious rule, or even pretend to be willing, may receive bene-
fits on their farms or in their shops. But men who are unwilling
to take the guidance of a religious society must have other kinds
of industrial training in establishments of city or state. The
presence of a great army of untaught men is evidence of a fun-
damental defect in social treatment of childhood, in school
instruction, and in means of forming habits of industry and of
acquiring skill. The apprenticeship system is made obsolete by
machinery, and the shop or factory is seldom a place for a child
to learn a trade or to acquire that discipline which fits him for
modern industrial life.

Voluntary organization of those who can and will work, but
cannot manage, is required by the situation. Free farm colonies,
similar to those found in various parts of Germany, promise
good results for a limited class. Experience has shown that
these places are avoided by the competent, and visited chiefly by
the broken and inefficient, a majority of whom are discharged
prisoners.

We have still to deal with another large class of men who
need the training and discipline of shop or farm, but will not



Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 8 of 35)