A New Charity: Homeless Men and Women 1866

 
 
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No one not familiar with the wants and evils of the city, can have an idea of the large number of entirely homeless men and women always drifting about our streets. It is they who especially fill up the vile cellars described recently with such graphic effect by the Police Commissioners.

 For a few pennies they secure lodgings in these unhealthy places, where thieves and vagrants and the lowest prostitutes congregate. There they sleep on the floor or on filthy beds, crowded together in one low room, all ages and sexes together.

Others again are too poor or too lazy to provide event the few pence required for the price of their lodging, and taking in preference the station-houses, where they pass under the title of "bummers," and "vagabonds," and "revolvers," until they become so well known and are so habitually vagrant and idle as to be sent up to the Island.

In a large city innumerable accidents throw people out on the world, or leave them adrift. Men come in from the country and expect work, but do not find it at once, and gradually expend all their means. Mechanics are taken sick, and on their recovery (especially if they are foreigners) find themselves without money or friends, and are forced to leave their boarding-house for want of any ready means with which to pay board. Families are turned suddenly out by landlords because unable to pay their rents; women enter the city to seek relatives or to secure employment, and cannot find either.

Thus all the while, from one cause or other, honest and industrious persons may for a short period be left on our streets entirely houseless and friendless. it is such a misfortune which every week is ruining some unhappy young girl, or driving decent young men into the companionship of thieves and vagabonds. London attempts to remedy this evil, both by three-penny private lodging rooms, by pay model lodgings and by work-houses in the different parishes, open to all.

New York has done much for the youthful portion of this homeless population, by such efficient charities as the "Newsboys' Lodging House," in Fulton-street, and the "Girls' Lodging House," No. 205 Canal-street, which together shelter in the course of the year some eight thousand different boys and girls. But for the adult homeless nothing has thus far has been done, except the simple experiment now being tried by the "Commissioners of Charity," in a building adjoining the Jefferson Market Prison, near Tenth-street and Sixth avenue. This board, feeling the great evil of homelessness among the honest poor, have, with characteristic energy and wisdom, opened a free night lodging-house at this place. No regular vagrants, bummers, revolvers or drunkards are admitted; indeed the officer in charge says they do not apply.

The applicants are mostly discharged soldiers, mechanics, and country laborers, frequently Germans by descent. Their stories of honest poverty, in a city full of wealth, and offering work everywhere, are most strange and touching. Here tales of that distress which comes near to despair and starvation are told every day, and under circumstances which forbid doubt or denial. Though but little has been said publicly about the institution, forty or fifty homeless men and women sleep here every night, in a warm room and on good straw beds, receive their cup of coffee and piece of bread the next morning, and then go out to look for work perhaps before night gaining liberal wages, and never returning. Indeed only three or four nights are allowed to each person, so as not to encourage pauperism. Here the industrious but unfortunate foreigner is saved from a night's companionship with rogues and vagrants, in cellar-lodgings or station-houses. Here the homeless woman, pausing on the brink of the terrible abyss which absolute destitution opens to her, can look about her and seek for honest employment. it is a simple but most effective charity.

By strict regulations, mere vagrancy and pauperism can be discouraged, and yet utter poverty be relieved. The building a former engine house is remarkably well adapted for the purpose, and we trust will be filled to its utmost needs. Why cannot our citizens here find workmen for various branches of business, especially for farm labor and trades? Then would the lodging-house become a new and much desired link between the homeless and unemployed of the city, and the employers of the country.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A New Charity: Homeless Men and Women 1866
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

 New York Times Feb 7, 1866 p. 4 (1 page)
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