Charles Richmond Henderson.

Modern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods online

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furnish their dependents provisions and necessaries of life, or give
them a home in the poorhouse. In medium sized places (cities of
20,000-100,000), however, as well as in large cities (of over 100,000
inhabitants), a particular organization becomes necessary, which is
generally quite separate from the strictly administrative machinery,
and is met with under such names as Armenveriualtung, Armendirec-
tion, Armcnhchorde, and the like. Among the latter we may distin-
guish three principal methods. First : the director of the Armenvcr-
waltiing, generally the mayor or some member of the local adminis-
tration, examines, usually through paid officials, every application for
aid ; these officials report on the case and thus reach a decision. This
is now the least common method, all more important relief authorities
having dropped it. Second : the administrative board has a number
of unpaid assistants ; to each of these is assigned one or two small dis-
tricts, within which he is to examine carefully all cases of poverty and
distress that may occur ; his findings he reports to the board, usually
with some suggestion or recommendation as to the kind of aid to be
granted ; the decision of this matter, however, rests with the board.
Third : the board has the entire business management in its hands ; the
individual cases are divided among a number of honor offices ; the


holders of these offices not only examine and report on cases in their
charge, but also determine what relief measures are to be employed,
and, if the case does not require hospital care or removal to an insti-
tution, they even apply the remedy themselves and assume a sort of
guardianship over the dependents during the time they receive aid.
This is the method now most generally in use ; it is based on the prin-
ciple of the Elberfeld system, that the unpaid official must be held
responsible for the resources which the community places at his dis-
posal for the work. Following the example of Elberfeld, nearly all
the cities of the Rhine have adopted this system, while many other
large cities have reestablished or revived it, as Hamburg did. The
old charity system of the city of Hamburg, superseded in 1893 by the
present one, was organized by Biisch and Voigt at the end of the
eighteenth century, and was received, at the time, with a great deal of
well-deserved admiration. It was based on entirely similar principles.
The fundamental principle of the Elberfeld system might also be
expressed thus : thorough examination of each individual dependent,
continued careful guardianship during the period of dependence, and
constant effort to help him regain economic independence. But these
requirements can be fulfilled only through the assistance and coopera-
tion of a sufficient number of well-qualified persons. And the great
results the Elberfeld system has attained must be attributed largely to
its success in regulating and keeping alive this cooperation. The first
experiments along this line were made at the beginning of this century
in the form of an organization of municipal charities, including all
religious denominations ; its purpose was in the first place to check
indiscriminate almsgiving, thus diminishing the great evil of men-
dicity, and at the same time to take the place of ecclesiastical poor
relief, which no longer sufficed. Here, already, the principle of thor-
ough examination, careful guardianship, and continued assistance was
established. But in practical administration the greatest difficulty
was experienced because of the small number of helpers at command
and their insufficient organization. Then the number of helpers was
increased, they were divided among the local districts, and their duties
defined as those we have indicated. But the successful working of
this arrangement was again curtailed and hampered by the fact that
the helpers remained mere investigators and reporters, the decision as
to manner and amount of the aid to be granted still remaining in the
hands of the supervising board. The evils which it was intended to


combat were not remedied, the poor taxes increased, the number of
beggars was on the increase, and the ideas of the poor regulations
were not carried out. It remained for a citizen of Elberfeld to dis-
cover the proper method, estabhshing the personal responsibility of
the helpers. Thus a great advance was made toward the solution of
one of the most important problems of poor relief, viz., the proper
relation between donor and recipient. In this spirit the reorganization
was effected, at Elberfeld, in 1852. We recognize in the reorganiza-
tion three points of importance : (0) individualization, (b) the visitors
have a voice in the determination of means, (c) decentralization.
The first is attained by a division of the entire city into quarters, such
that each shall not contain more than four dependents (individuals or
heads of families), and the placing of each quarter under the super-
vision of a visitor. The visitor {Armenpfleger) is the chief organ of
poor relief; it is his duty to visit the poor of his quarter at regular
intervals, to keep himself constantly informed as to their circum-
stances, and to exert an educational and refining influence over them
and their families. He is to be their friend and adviser, and is to
insist on discipline and order. Ill-disposed and lazy persons it is his
duty to report to the authorities for legal prosecution. The arrange-
ment which gives the visitors the decision as to manner and amount of
the aid is this : The quarters are grouped into circuits or districts ; the
visitors of a circuit have regular meetings for the purpose of discuss-
ing the work, taking counsel, and deciding on the amount, the kind,
and duration of the assistance to be given. At the head of each such
circuit there is a superintendent or inspector (Vorstehcr), who pre-
sides over and directs the proceedings of the circuit and negotiates
between the visitors and the central board. The central administra-
tive board (Hauptz'cnvalfiing) is composed of a representative of the
city administration (Stadtvcnvaltuug) and of members of the city
council. It has charge of the general direction of poor relief, the
control of the decisions and resolutions of the circuits, the making of
general regulations affecting all quarters, the supervision of institu-
tional and hospital relief, etc. Moreover, it is the duty of this central
board to search out the causes of poverty, to acquaint itself with the
conditions of the poorer classes, to prepare and direct measures of a
general nature, to see that the means at disposal are wisely used, — in
short, to attend to everything not directly connected with passing upon
the individual cases. Their control over the proceedings of the circuit,


therefore, does not imply a suspicious scrutinizing of each individual
case, but is merely to give them an opportunity to see, in a general
way, that the principles laid down in the poor laws are being carried
out. The validity of the decisions of the circuit is not dependent on
the approval of the board.

With the single exception of the chairman of the general board,
who usually belongs to the higher class of salaried municipal officials,
all the offices, those of the board, the superintendents, and the visitors,
are purely honor offices. The members of the general board are
chosen by the municipal council, the remaining officials by the board ;
and all are obliged to perform the duties of their respective offices
without any remuneration. This is in accord with the entire system
of German self-government, which makes a large number of offices
purely honorary ; especially is this true of their system of poor relief.
And the peculiarity of this latter system is that, contrary to the custom
of other forms of self-government, the offices are not limited to per-
sons who have already won the greatest respect of their community, or
who are made prominent by reason of wealth or social position, or who
may have leisure to attend to the duties of an honor office. Here we
find, on the contrary, that all classes of citizens are drawn into the
service, and that a special effort is made to enlist the citizens of modest
means, the tradesman, the mechanic, and the better class of laborers as
visitors. Experience has proved, beyond a doubt, that circuits made
up entirely of helpers from the upper classes distribute their funds far
more lavishly than those composed of helpers of all classes, and that
helpers drawn from the upper classes too easily lose their sympathy
with their wards, from whom they are socially too far removed.
Moreover, both at Elberfeld and in other cities, it has become a tacitly
accepted custom that the office of a visitor in the poor relief depart-
ment is the first round in the ladder of municipal honor offices ; and no
one can reach the upper, more highly esteemed positions, who does
not begin on the bottom round.

The machinery we have thus described is complemented by a
thoroughlv organized, well-regulated business management. This is
composed of a number of salaried officials forming a division of the
general board, whose work supplements, in a variety of ways, that of
the honor offices. It is their duty to gather statistics concerning each
individual receiving aid, to collect these statistics in books and papers,
so that they will be easily accessible to anyone desiring information


concerning a particular person. It is also their duty to examine the
proceedings of the circuits, and to bring to the notice of the general
board any faults that may be discovered. The object of all this, how-
ever, is not to control or direct the work of the visitors, but to supple-
ment it ; but without this cooperation, supervision and mediatory inter-
position there would be no decentralization, but the exact opposite ; for
the independence of the several circuits would lead to entire arbitrari-
ness, to a dangerous inequality, and the system would be lost. Finally,
it may be added that the work of all these offices, the general board,
the superintendents, the helpers, and the business management, must
be carefully regulated by wise poor laws and by instructions. These
must furnish a good, reliable guide to a judicious performance of duty,
without curtailing in the least the freedom of decision in a particular
case. The value of good directions can never be overestimated. Lack
of them and dependence upon the good sense and good will of the
various officials may entirely frustrate the accomplishment of the
desired results. To draw up proper regulations and directions, with-
out going too much into minute details, and to carefully adapt them to
a local environment will always be the most important part of the
preparation for a reform of poor relief.

The fact already brought out, that there are general fixed laws
governing poor relief, which should be applied under all circum-
stances, is to be considered in the light of what we have just said in
regard to the adaptation of these laws. Nothing could be more sense-
less than to attempt to introduce the Elberfeld system, without making
material changes in it, into all communes, even into all German com-
munes. To begin with, there is a vast difference between the sizes of
the several communes. A measure that would be wise in a city of
even 100,000 inhabitants might not be a success in Berlin, with about
two millions of people in the city and suburbs. Hamburg, with its
600,000, occupies a position between the two ; likewise Dresden, Leip-
sic, Munich and other cities. Besides this the class, the kind of popu-
lation makes a very material difference. While Elberfeld has, on the
whole, a settled population, composed largely of skilled laborers, the
surrounding districts, with their mining and manufacturing industries,
are inhabited by a very fluctuating population which makes vastly
different demands upon relief work. The agricultural East has quite
other needs in this line than the industrial West. Wherever the
growth of our modern cities creates special labor districts, where a


single house often shelters a colony of paupers, the Elberfeld quarter
system cannot work; moreover, it would be very difficult to find a
sufficient number of helpers in such a district, and the fundamental
idea of the Elberfeld system, that of maintaining friendly, neighborly
relations between the helper and fellow-men, is almost entirely lost;
for the constantly shifting population renders the establishment of
such relations well-nigh impossible. On the other hand, the system of
administration is of importance. Where all or nearly all the officers
are salaried and, as a consequence, the work tends to become formal
and methodical, it should be quickened by the institution of honor
offices. Where, as in Hamburg, — and in this respect Hamburg prob-
ably comes nearer the American form of government than any other
German city, — the local government has for centuries controlled all
public offices, and has never paid any of its poor relief officials except
the lowest clerks, — here it was found necessary to add a number of
more highly trained officials. Perhaps it is for this very reason that
the Hamburg reforms excited a considerable interest in America,
because it not only attempts an appropriate reform of the general
system of poor relief, but also seeks to harmonize the work of the
professional (salaried) officers and that of the honor offices, and to
supplement the one by the other.

The deficiency of the Hamburg poor relief arose mainly from the
fact that the relief work had not kept pace with the growth of the city ;
the boundaries of the old quarters remained unchanged, while the
number of visitors was not increased. The result was that a single
visitor, as a rule, had from 20 to 30 cases in charge ; in some districts
the number ran as high as 40-50, and in a few even to 70-80. It will
be readily seen that one who undertakes the duties of a visitor besides
his regular business or trade cannot give 40 or even 20 persons or
families sufficient attention to thoroughly understand and constantly
oversee their circumstances, to say nothing of his being their friend
and adviser, and performing the most important social function, that
of a helper. And as a matter of fact the work of the visitor had, with
a few praiseworthy exceptions, become limited to the receiving of
applications for assistance and a more or less careful examination at
the time of the granting of the first aid. But then the aid once granted
was usually paid year after year, without a renewed investigation ; and
in the first year after the reorganization it was found upon investi-
gation that in nearly 5,000 of the 9-10,000 cases then receiving aid the


assistance was no longer necessary. The principal type of this class'
were widows with several children. At the time of the death of their
husbands they were, indeed, entirely helpless ; but after a lapse of
some ten years, during which their children had grown up, they were
very well able to support themselves without any assistance whatever,
and in some of these cases the joint earnings of several children living
with their mother were found to exceed considerably the income of the
better class of laborers. Another respect in which the old system of
Hamburg was deficient was this : the records and other such materials
were not collected at one central office. The result was that as soon as
an indigent pauper became reasonably well-known in one part of the
city and was no longer believed to be in need of support, all he had to
do was to move to another part of the city, there to receive aid again,
instead of being legally prosecuted. In addition to this the super-
intendent of the circuit was overburdened with much unnecessary
clerical work, which would have been far better done by professionals.
All this led to contradictions in the work of the several circuits, to dis-
similarity and inequality in the application of the poor laws, careless-
ness and lack of control in the business management, and together
with these all of the other evils which are wont to result from careless
and planless charity : money was often squandered on people who were
either unworthy or not in need ; worthy poor, who were too backward
to apply to the independent helpers for aid, were neglected ; poor judg-
ment was often shown in giving money instead of provisions, or alms
instead of work, or in supporting the parents instead of placing their
child in an orphanage or other institution, etc. In spite of all this it
must be said that in Hamburg the system of honor offices rests upon
such venerable traditions that the sense of responsibility, in many
cases, was very strong, and the abuses were not nearly so great nor so
numerous as might have been expected. Nevertheless the grievances
were sufficient to convince all judicious minds of the absolute necessity
of a thorough, energetic reform. This view was very materially
advanced by the publications and assemblies of the German Society
for Poor Relief and Philanthropy, which, like the National Conference
of Charities and Correction, seeks to disseminate correct principles of
poor relief and philanthropy.

The reform was begun in the fall of 1892 by the employment of an
expert.^ This, however, had absolutely no connection with the break-
* This was Dr. E. Mijnsterberg.


ing out of the cholera the same fall, frequent public statements to the
contrary notwithstanding. The reform and the calling of an expert
had been decided upon long before the cholera broke out, although the
two events were contemporaneous. And yet the cholera did have a
considerable influence upon the development of poor-relief in the suc-
ceeding years of the reform. In the first place, the epidemic showed
that public relief was by no means able to meet the demands of such
an emergency, thus deepening the conviction of the necessity of a
reform and giving the work the benefit of favorable public sentiment.
In the second place, however, the distress created a need for speedy
and more extended relief work than even a well-organized public relief
could have furnished. As a result sub-committees were promptly
organized in each of the smaller districts of the city, for such work as
providing boiled water, provisions, clothing, and gifts of money, find-
ing temporary homes for children, and supervising the distribution of
the abundant stores which flowed in from all directions, even from
foreign lands. The whole of this work was under the superintendence
of a central committee composed, besides a few leading spirits, of the
chairmen of the sub-committees. In spite of the mistakes made by
these committees, principally at the start, they performed most extraor-
dinary services in supplying rapid and suitable relief. A very large
number of men and women devoted themselves to the work in the
most unselfish manner, and during this brief period learned more
about poor-relief and philanthropy than long years of experience in
connection with public relief or private philanthropic societies could
teach. For the reform, the importance of this work lay in the fact
that it convinced all classes of the necessity of relief work, and brought
out and even distinguished a large number of persons hitherto entirely
unknown in this work, to whom the directors of relief work could
successfully appeal, when, a little later, the reformed system was in
need of a force of auxiliaries. This circumstance, therefore, was very
favorable to the success of the reform. True, the cholera did, on the
other hand, create conditions which were far from normal, and w^hich,
at the outset, severely obstructed the work. The great increase in the
number of dependents was brought about not by actual needs alone,
and the loss to many of their supporters, but also by the fact that many,
while all kinds of assistance were so freely given, learned to like such
subsidies, and supposed they were now going to continue indefinitely.
The first step in the introduction of the reform was the working out of


a plan which should at the same time take advantage of the most recent
scientific and practical experience, and be adapted to local conditions.
The first of these requirements made the resulting system a modifica-
tion, agreeing with the Elberfeld system principally in the entire inde-
pendence of the visitors, while, in compliance with the second, the
independence of the districts was extended in many ways ; for instance,
they were given the right of nomination for the offices of superintend-
ent of a district and of new helpers and visitors ; the appointment to
both these offices being usually the prerogative of the general manage-
ment. The choice of a temporary superintendent or chairman was
left entirely to the districts ; moreover, they were given a considerable
power to vote aid.

The quarter system, on the other hand, which is characteristic of
the Elberfeld system, was dropped on principle ; it was also found
necessary to drop their system of granting aid for a very brief period
only. The principal advantage of the quarter system lies in the fact
that each dependent is from the start in definite relations to a par-
ticular helper, in whose "quarter" he lives, the quarter being very
closely defined within certain streets and house numbers ; the visitor is
therefore able to keep very fully informed of the conditions in his
quarter ; he can, within the range of the few houses allotted to him,
find out every case that may demand his attention, and come in contact
with the poor of his quarter frequently and in many dififerent ways.
The disadvantages are these : a given case must of necessity remain
always under the same visitor ; under circumstances a sort of protec-
torate is developed; and (especially) an approximately even distribu-
tion of the population among these quarters has ceased. Frequently
certain houses are occupied almost solely by the poorer class, while
others do not contain a single dependent. It is therefore possible
under this system, and it actually did occur in Hamburg, that some
visitors had in charge houses containing fifty to sixty paupers, while
others never saw anyone in need. Hamburg, therefore, as well as
Berlin, Leipsic, and Dresden, had adopted the district system {Bezirks-
system). Here the district includes quite a number of streets and
places. The district assembly or council is made up of the district
superintendent or chairman (B eairksvorsteher) and a number of vis-
itors, varying with the needs of the district — usually not under twelve,
under no circumstances more than twenty. But none of these visitors
has, at the outset, any relation to a particular house or its occupants.



On the contrary, every applicant for aid must first present himself to
the district chairman (Vorsteher), who refers him, by means of an
application blank, to one of his helpers ; this helper, then, is obliged to
examine into the case, supply any urgent and immediate need, and
report at the next district assembly. Usually the case will be left in
his charge for further treatment as long as the dependent continues to
reside in his district ; the case may, however, be given to another vis-
itor for further treatment. The advantage of this dividing of depend-
ents among the several helpers by the superintendent lies in the fact
that the latter can employ all his helpers, not only in the same degree,
but also each one according to his ability, without giving to all an
equal number of cases. He will be able to give one living very near at
hand more cases than he gives to one living at some distance, more to
a man of considerable leisure than to a very busy man ; to entrust to
some very energetic person the investigation of a case demanding a
great deal of energy, and to refer cases of aged people or children,
where a tender heart is not so likely to be taken undue advantage of,
to some tender-hearted person. Thus a superintendent is able to
meet every need of a case, and at the same time to prevent the over-
burdening of particular helpers. He can also change helpers in a
case, placing a dependent, either successively or simultaneously, under
the charge of several visitors. This system, which is very elastic, has
proved extraordinarily successful in Hamburg.

The second point of difference, the lengthening of the period of

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonModern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods → online text (page 2 of 73)