Early American CharityIn the days of the American colonies, charity emphasized giving time to those who were unable to care for themselves and giving relief in kind (not cash) to the deserving poor. The deserving poor were those who had no ability to help themselves, nor any family or friends who could do so. Applicants were investigated to determine if they were truly needy. Drunkness was not tolerated, and recipients were required to work, in accordance with the apostle Paul’s teaching that “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Care was taken to prevent pauperization—making someone dependent on charity. Emphasis was also placed on the need for God to regenerate those whose sinful attitudes and actions had reduced them to poverty. This situation continued into the early 1800s, where travellers to the United States remarked on the lack of beggars and the charitability of the population. By contrast, London in the late 1700s provided what Olasky terms “outdoor relief:" monetary aid given by the government to those eligible; travellers to London were astonished at the number of beggars and how they treated the aid as a right. The well-travelled Ben Franklin said that “there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent” than Britain because of the British Welfare Act.
In Colonial America, towns were small and everyone knew everyone else. The rise of cities in the 1800s and the resulting loss of closeness required charities to be more thorough in investigating who was really needy. In Britain, Thomas Chalmers divided Glasgow into regions to make charity investigations more tractable and met with great success. Olasky documents the success of some of the charities in the U.S. that followed his model. Similarly, caring for orphans became more difficult as cities grew larger. A large house that provided food, clothes, and shelter for orphans simply did not meet their need to for parental love and guidance. So Charles Brace arranged for children to be sent to the countryside to live with a family. In return for caring for the children as their own, the children would work part-time on the farm. This program was able to transform many of the orphans who had bad habits into responsible adults.
The First People-Are-Good ChallengeMost people of the time felt that government was unable to discern whether applicants were needy, so the government did little outdoor relief. Those that did were generally seen as ineffective: a report on a Philadelphia program to give aid to mothers with illegitimate children noted that Philadephia had 269 such mothers but Baltimore, a city without such a program had none. Furthermore, the report criticized the program because the recipients saw it as a right, were insolent, and did not have their characters changed. For similar reasons, President Pierce vetoed a bill that would set up mental hospitals on the grounds that if the government became involved it would reduce charity.
However, Social Universalists soon challenged aid for only the deserving poor. Universalists, as represented by the well-known writer Horace Greely, believed that people are naturally good and that everyone had a right to salvation and prosperity. Greely advocated that people should move to communes, so that their natural goodness would emerge when placed in a healthy environment. The “Social Gospel” advocated by Greelyites provided a moral foundation that competed with the Biblical foundation that most charities worked under. It provided a moral foundation for outdoor relief—we should give people aid to relieve poverty because they deserve it and because their character will improve when they are no longer poor. Opponents warned of pauperization and feared that bad charity (outdoor relief) would drive out good charity. But many governmental programs for outdoor relief sprang up anyway.
As predicted by opponents, recipients became pauperized—dependent on the aid. In New York City, where much outdoor relief was given (in large part to keep Boss Tweed’s party in power), by the 1870s about 10% of the city’s population was receiving aid! In fact, even Horace Greely was so disgusted with the situation that he reversed his opinion:
The beggars of New York are at once very numerous and remarkably impudent.’ ... [and] concluded that from his ‘extensive, protracted experience’ that, ‘the poor often suffer from poverty, I know; but oftener from lack of capacity, skill, management, efficiency, than lack of money. Here is an empty-handed youth who wants [money, but] he is far more certain to set resolutely to work without than with that pleasant but baneful accommodation. Make up a square issue,—"Work or starve!"—and he is quite likely to choose work.
Furthermore, bad charity did indeed drive out good charity. When people say how recipients of outdoor relief abused the system, they became disenchanted and became much less willing to give. In fact, the social reaction was so strong that there arose a movement called the Social Darwinists who said that the poor were incurably lazy and corrupt, and that society would be better off without them. Biblically minded charities pointed out that God regenerates all people and continued their emphasis on programs that put people in a position to be changed by God. Charities made a stronger effort to research applicants, and successful charities generally required a work test. Applications were required to chop wood for an hour or so (this was before central heating), or if they were women, to sew garments that would be given to the needy. Those who refused to work were clearly not interested in being reformed. Volunteers were encouraged to have compassion, that is, to suffer with those they helped—to spend time with them.
Charities along this line were so successful in fighting back poverty that by the turn of the century, although much poverty still remained, society felt that eliminating poverty was possible. But while Biblically based charities focused on changing one person at a time, this was too slow for many, who felt that it would be better done en masse. The Social Universalists wanted to change the world, not individuals. Their goal was not to see character reformed, but lives made more wealthy and lives made more comfortable. This was easily quantifiable and thus something that government could do; indeed, to effect mass change, the government would be required.
The first decades of the twentieth century saw a slow change in attitude. Whereas previously the societal attitude had been that only the worthy poor should be helped, not the irresponsible poor, society began to feel that everyone had a right to wealth and comfort. And where previously charities placed importance on suffering with the poor, social workers began to view themselves as “professionals.” Volunteers had once lived in the large houses run by some charities, but now volunteers refused to live in the same communities as their “clients.” The poor began to be a number, rather than a person. Furthermore, an attitude began to develop that only the professionals could properly serve the poor, so volunteers began to be relegated to desk jobs, which reduced the incentive to volunteer. All the while, government programs were expanding as child welfare laws were passed.
The Depression caused a large increase in need. However, society generally felt that it was shameful to be on “the dole,” so most of the relief required work. In fact, most people sought help from family, friends, and neighbors before applying for WPA programs. This left people like Donald Howard yearning for a time when people weren’t so old fashioned:
Howard was in the mainstream of new social work thinking; ... like many of his colleagues, Howard wanted relief to be depersonalized and a structure of “rights” established, so that “no person would have the discretionary power to deny to any eligible applicant the aid to which he is entitled.” Like Grace Abbott, Howard opposed background checks and instead proposed that benefits ‘be paid upon a worker’s declaration that he was without work and that his family was of a given size, without recourse to humiliating investigations either of his own needs and resources or of those of close relatives. (p. 164)
The Rise of the Welfare StateAnd change those attitudes did. As society began to view people as basically good—doing evil things sometimes, but not being evil—society saw poverty as caused by society, so it could be fixed by society. “Authors Elizabeth Wickenden and Winifred Bell ... opposed any emphasis on personal responsibility for economic problems: there should be no penalty for able-bodied and mentally competent individuals who, for whatever reason, were unable ‘to hold a job, to spend their money sensibly ... or otherwise rise to the challenges of social responsibility’” (p. 169). The theologically liberal National Council of Churches argued that the rich have a moral responsibility to give handouts (the National Association of Evangelicals continued to emphasize bringing people to Christ). The National Welfare Rights Organization spent a lot of time and effort telling people that it was better to take welfare than to take in laundry to make extra money. The problem was not themselves, but society and welfare would let them keep their dignity. Young lawers of the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Legal Services fought strongly for the NWRO’s causes. They got many rules struck down of the increasing welfare legislation: “Rules that welfare officials, without extensive hearings, could declare a person employable and require him to take a job, were struck down. Rules that women receiving AFDC could not have a ‘man in the house’ were struck down. Rules that recipients suspected of fraud had to answer questions of else face possible loss of subsidy, were struck down” (p. 181). Olasky even suggests a socialistic desire: “The law became a handmaiden of income transfer, and a way of battering anyone who stood in the way. ‘Justice’ equalled income redistribution, and government officials soon worked alongside protestors” (p. 182).
Predictably, this simply made the problem worse. Welfare rolls expanded so quickly that administrators were astonished. “Lyndon Johnson’s economic advisers warned in 1964 that the poverty rate, in the absence of federal action, could be as high as 13 percent by 1980. After sixteen years of multibillion-dollar programs, the poverty rate at the end of that year was—13 percent” (p. 185). Social mobility decreased because people became unwilling to give up a known income in exchange for the opportunity to become independent that carried some risk. Programs for teenage mothers destroyed bonds within families: a teenage mother was only eligible for welfare if she had her own apartment, but that meant leaving her family that could help care for the child and give her opportunities to advance herself. Pauperization increased: “A Christian Science Monitor interviewee noted that many of her pauperized associates remained poor because they were ‘satisfied’ on welfare: ‘If they’d rebel against it, they’d get out of it’” (p. 190). Programs to give handouts to the homeless actually increase homelessness: Dan McMurry notes that there are always people on the edge of poverty, and programs that give money to the homeless end up “pulling the weakest loose from the fabric of the community onto the pavement.” Perhaps most telling assessment is that “A half-century after the New Deal, Kentucky journalist John Pearce recalled, ‘I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us’ that the New Deal legacy would be ‘a welfare system that today supports millions who have neither prospect nor intention of earning their own living’” (p. 153).
LessonsOlasky does more than simply recount history, however. Drawing from the lessons of the successful charities, he suggests that successful charities must have seven elements: affiliation, bonding, categorization, discernment, employment, freedom, God. Affiliation reconnects the poor (particularly those who have run away from their problems) with their neighbors. Bonding re-placed people with their families, which would promote long-term change as a result of the family interactions. If people had no family, the charity volunteers became a surrogate family; this requires a substantial time committment to “suffer with”. Categorization and discernment are necessary to separate the deserving poor from the lazy poor. Charity should not be given without a requirement to work, with the objective of enabling recipients to find long-term employment. Finally, life change cannot happen without God.
Sprinkled throughout the book are quotations that address what Olasky terms the myth of homelessness, namely that the poor, the homeless are just like us, only down on their luck. In the early 1800s, “Baltimore Alms House officials claimed that ‘of the whole number admitted, more than three-fourths were positively ascertained to have been reduced to pauperism by intemperence.’” A group of Philadelphia officials visited five major cities and concluded that “From three-fourths to nine-tenths of the paupers in all parts of our country, may attribute their degradation to the vice of intemperence” (p. 46). Robert Hartley, secretary at The NY Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor for over 30 years, discovered “the problem of alcoholism often was part of a bundle of spiritual and material problems. ... Hartley argued that since material deprivation was often the tip of the iceberg, ‘to remove the evil we must remove the causes; and these being chiefly moral—whatever subsidiary appliances may be used—they admit only moral remedies’” (p. 28). In our own time,
The Mumbling Majority of the homeless, however, are men who are alone, who have been told that it is fine to be alone, and who have become used to receiving subsidy in their chosen life-style. Most of the homeless—three fourths of all men in a Baltimore study conducted by clinicians from Johns Hopkins University—are substance abusers. Many of the homeless alcoholics have families, but do not want to be with them. Those who have been married have often abandonded their wives and children. Many of the homeless have had jobs, but they just do not want to stick to them; some prefer the freedom of having odd jobs and being able to move around. In Schiff’s psychiatric summary, “Almost all lack the sense of personal ‘structuruing’ necessary to maintain steady employment.” (p. 212) 1
Besides the many examples of charities he gives in the historical section, Olasky has some brief practial recommendations. He suggests that programs to help teenage mothers practice affiliation and bonding: give the mothers a family. He cites Jim and Anne Pierson, of House of Creation, who take in teenage mothers and live with them as a family, teaching by example healthy relational communication, conflict, and parenting skills, with an emphasis on Christ. For the homeless he recommends tough love. Gospel Mission in Washington, D.C. offers shelter to the homeless, but requires them to work and if they are abusive, requires them to leave until they have sobered up. They take pictures of residents passed out on the sidewalk to show (lovingly) that a grown man should act responsibly. And they point people to Christ. For the mentally-ill homeless, Olasky recommends asylum instead of handouts:
The solution to [the problem of the mentally ill] only seems difficult because of an [sic] pervasive unwillingness to categorize. But it is clear to anyone who walks the street that the insane homeless who are unable to help themselves desperately need asylum, both in the current meaning of that word and in its original meaning of safety. ... If we find a little girl wandering the streets at midnight, few of us will give her a chocolate chip cookie and feel that we have acted with compassion. Why should we act differently to others who are also lost in the dark? (p. 211)
EvaluationThis book gives an excellent perspective on helping the needy. He shows that, from the 1600s to the 1800s helping the needy meant giving aid to the poor who could not help themselves but wanted to become independent. He shows that charity work that assumes that people are basically not good and seeks to change character is consistently successful. He shows from the example of London in the 1790s, America in the 1850s, and today’s welfare state, how the assumption that people are basically good leads to outdoor relief that does not change character but creates dependency and a feeling of entitlement that makes the problem worse. Today “compassion” generally means “giving a handout,” yet Olasky shows that it originally meant “suffering with.” Originally helping the poor meant spending time teaching them skills and spending painstaking time developing character. For those who think that man is basically good and that money will fix the problem, Olasky invites them to examine the lessons of history. For those who understand that many of the poor are that way because of their sin, who are willing to show Christ’s tough love on an individual basis to those who will turn from their sin but who are willing to refuse help if they want to continue in their sin, who are willing to spend time suffering with the poor, Olaksy offers many examples of how people can be transformed. This was an unusually eye-opening book, presented with multitude of historical evidence and poignent comments. This book is a must-read for anyone who desires to help the poor.
- Compassion: suffer with, or accept wrongdoing until the person is in a good environment
- Human nature: basically morally corrupt, or basically good?
- Scope: individuals or mass society?
The content is very clearly a 10. Olasky traces the thread of intellectual thought and it’s implications throughout history. He clearly identifies the ideas and demonstrates the effects with a multitude of examples. Readers new to the subject, however, will likely find practical steps lacking. The description of the principles occurs in the middle of the history, instead of at the end, and although he gives some examples of charities that follow the principles, this is not clearly pointed out. Nor is there a clear call for readers to reject ministries that do not follow these principles (although if readers do not feel an urge, they have problem not paid attention!). Sometimes the train of thought gets sidetracked by examples of effective charity. Will it be around in 100 years (my standard of excellence)? I am unsure: the writing is good, not great, but the research is superb, so I think there is a fair chance. Regardless, this topic is so necessary for today that I think this book is a must-read.
- Chapter 1: The Early American Model of Compassion
- Caring for the needy meant giving time: in 1620 when many in Plymouth were sick, those who were not spent time making food, gathering wood, cleaning the chamber pots, etc. of those who were sick
- Widow and orphans were often brought into a family. Often the town councils would compensate the family for expenses.
- “But the open hand was not extended to all; the [Scot’s Charitable Society, founded 1684] ruled that ‘no prophane or diselut person, or openly scandelous shall have any pairt or portione herin.’ The able-bodied could readily find jobs in a growing agricultural economy; when they chose not to, it was considered perfectly appropriate to pressure them to change their minds.” (p. 7)
- Some theistic themes dominatied charitable thinking:
- God wants our hearts. If we give money but do not give love, it is no good.
- Important to know the poor as a person
- The importance of God’s law implied that the poor who violated it needed to learn about God and what He expects of us. (i.e. spiritual help, not just material help)
- Emphasis on witholding charity when needed: “[Cotton] Mather in 1710 gave his congregation pointed advice concerning the idle: ‘Don’t nourish ‘em and harden ‘em in that, but find employment for them. Find ‘em work, set ‘em to work; keep ‘em to work.’” (p. 9)
- Emphasis on family relationships: immediate relatives were expected to help if possible.
- Aid was in kind, rather than in cash. Work was required. Drunkenness was not tolerated.
- The goal was to help people become the responsible people that God expected them to be,
- Most charities were religious. This included Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.
- All charities investigated the need personally, and gave the goods necessary for the situation (but not money)
- Observers of America in the 1820s and 1830s noted with astonishment the lack of beggars and neighbors helped each other
- Chapter 2: Turning Cities into Countryside
- Cities were more impersonal, so it was more difficult to have an emphasis on family in the city.
- Thomas Chalmers had a very successful organization of Glasgow for charity. He advocated five things:
- Distinguished between pauperization (dependence) and poverty.
- Argued that State relief tended to pauperize because it removed the need for self-help and discipline
- Biblical obligation to be personally involved with the poor
- Those who were poor because of their poor choices needed to show a willingness to examine their way of thinking.
- Need to break things up into manageable territories (otherwise people get discouraged)
- Chalmers ran an experiment in St. John’s parish of Glasgow, where his parishoners provided the needed relief on the condition that those who wanted to give indiscriminantly stayed out. Giving increased (people were more confident it would be used well), relief was cheaper, and pauperization decreased.
- As cities in America grew in size, people did not know each other like they did in rural settings, and Chalmers’ methods began to be applied with success.
- Charities aided the “worthy poor,” not the lazy. “[The NY Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, AICP] pointed out that contributors were entrusting them with funds ‘solely’ to give generous help to the ‘worthy poor’ and nothing to the lazy: ‘Take away this consideration, and the motives for [AICP] support would cease.’” (p. 27)
- Hartley, secretary at AICP for over 30 years, discovered that alcoholism was a large part of the problem. But it went deeper: “as the years went by Hartley saw that the problem of alcoholism often was part of a bundle of spiritual and material problems. ... Hartley argued that since material deprivation was often the tip of the iceberg, ‘to remove the evil we must remove the causes; and these being chiefly moral—whatever subsidiary appliances may be used—they admit only moral remedies.’” (p. 28)
- Charities kept names of “imposters” (able-bodied people who would not work) and refused them help.
- Charles Brace opened a lodging house for abandoned children in NYC. These houses rewarded honest work by giving goods as rewards for good conduct, punctuality, industry, etc.
- Previously he had found that attempts at merely moral reform did not work (preachers were jeered at) and distributing material just led to people milk the system
- The needs of the children were to have personal attention, so created a system to send the children to the countryside. A family would give them lodging, board, etc. and treat them like their own child, and in exchange, the children would do part-time work on the farm. This succeeded because there were theological incentives to help (help those in need like God did to us) and also economic incentives (farmers received work; suffering with [compassion] the child was already emotionally draining, but did not need to be economically so)
- Chapter 3: The First Challenge to the Charity Consensus
- The British Welfare Act resulted in Ben Franklin stating “there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent” (p. 43) because of the Act.
- Most people in the early 1800s felt that government was unable to determine who was the needy poor, so by and large, the government did not give outdoor relief.
- “Baltimore Alms House officials claimed that ‘of the whole number admitted, more than three-fourths were positively ascertained to have been reduced to pauperism by intemperence.’” (p. 46)
- Philadephia gave aid to mothers with illegitimate children and a committee officials who visited a number of cities noted that in Baltimore, Boston, and Salem, where there was no aid, there were few illegitimate children, but Philadelphia had 269.
- “Nor did the Philadelphia grants appear to help character formation. In describing recipients of largesse, committe members observed ‘the unblishing effrontery, that some of the exhibit. The thanklessness with which they receive their allotted stipend; the insolence with which they demand a further supply, arrogantly exactly as a right, what ought never to have been granted, even as a charity.’” (p. 47)
- President Pierce vetoed a bill that would set up mental hospitals on the grounds that it would reduce charity.
- Horace Greely gave the moral foundation for giving out relief to any who asked. He “was a Universalist who believed that people are naturally good and that every person has a right to both eternal salvation and temporal prosperity. He ... [advised people to] fight poverty by joining communes in which the natural goodness of humans, freed from competitive pressure, inevitably would emerge.” (p. 50) He advocated a “Social Gospel”: “He tried to show that the centerpiece of Christianity was communal living and material redistribution” (p. 52)
- As these ideas took hold, more outdoor relief began to be performed by governments
- In NYC, Boss Tweed ensured the continuance of his regime by creating “programs whereby thousands of men and women in New York and Brooklyn could line up at government distributing offices on ‘relief days.’ By the early 1870s one-tenth of the city’s population was receiving weekly rations from public storehouses.” This pauperization was exactly what opponents had predicted.
- Chapter 4: The Social Darwinist Threat
- Urban problems in the 1870s were similarly large as today.
- “Many of the previously charitable became sick of it all. Compassion malaise was evident everywhere. Even Horace Greeley recorded his exasperation at what his type of thinking had wrought. ‘The beggars of New York,’ he complained in 1869, ‘are at once very numerous and remarkably impudent.’ ... [and] concluded that from his ‘extensive, protracted experience’ that, ‘the poor often suffer from poverty, I know; but oftener from lack of capacity, skill, management, efficiency, than lack of money. Here is an empty-handed youth who wants [money, but] he is far more certain to set resolutely to work without than with that pleasant but baneful accommodation. Make up a square issue,—"Work or starve!"—and he is quite likely to choose work.” (p. 61)
- In 1875 the New York State Board of Charities warned “When persons, naturally idle and improvident, have experienced for a few months the convenience of existing upon the labor of others, they are very likely to resort to this means of living as often and as continuously as possible.” (p. 62) In 1879 it “reported that outdoor relief was ‘injurious and hurtful to the unfortunate and worthy poor, demoralizing in its tendencies, a prolific source of pauperism and official corruption, and an unjust burden on the public.” (p. 62-63) In 1884 they reported that outdoor relief is “not only useless, as a means to relieving actual existing suffering, but an active means of increasing present and future want and vice.” (p. 63)
- Social Darwinism arose as a reaction by people disgusted with the poor taking advantage of the system. It said that the poor were permanently corrupt and needed to be removed.
- Christians naturally felt this was unbiblical and worked for a solution encompassing two parts: eliminating outdoor relief (not too difficult because the programs were relatively new and didn’t have deep bureaucratic roots) and organizing many charities to provide for the needs.
- Many of these charities had “work tests”: applicants were required to chop wood for a meal. If they refused, then clearly they did not really want help, they just wanted a hand-out.
- Josephine Lowell of the NYC Charity Organization Society “argued for objective measurement of actions, not applause for good intentions: ‘Charity must go further than kind feeling,’ for ‘no amount of good feeling could convert an injurious act into a charitable one.’ She provided evidence that ‘dolegiving and almsgiving do break down independence, do destroy energy, do undermine character.’” (p. 77) She recruited volunteers who would “suffer with” the poor and give the human sympathy and personal element that the depersonalizing government outdoor relief programs lacked.
- She advocated have volunteers go to the homes of applicants and investigate. They would also try to match the needy with people who could provide.
- “By the 1880s it was clear that individual, church, and community effort was needed to beat back Social Darwinism and truly help the poor. To do so, citizens would have to understand that the outdoor relief of the soup-kitchens was not generous but stingy—stingy in human contact, stingy in its estimation of what human beings made after God’s image were capable of doing and becoming, and stingy in refusing to divide up the avaliable amount of material support so that those who really needed it received an ample supply, but those who would be hurt by it would receive none.” (p. 79)
- Chapter 5: Proving Social Darwinism Wrong
- Many charities provided all sorts of aid imagineable, and were not just limited to Protestants—Catholics and Jews also had successful charities. They provided aid to the poor, taught classes to give saleable skills, etc. All emphasized religion.
- Jerry McAuley was led by a vision from God to start a ministry which had large success. He was a hardened thief, but was saved in prison and slowly reformed after he got out. He rented a room in a part of NYC where people were afraid to go and held services. At the service people would confess their lives and their desire to change. Testimonies would be told of people who had by God’s grace, changed. He focused on challenging people: each person needed to recognize their sin. (When one person stood up and prayed for sinners everywhere except for himself, he “interrupted and said, ‘Look here, my friend, you had better ask God to have mercy on your soul.’” (p.95)). Converts who had stood fast for a year would lead the service and tell his full story for the first time. “McAuley urged such testimony, for he said that ‘those of us whom God has taken out of the dirty hole ought to be always telling of His goodness.’” (p. 95)
- Chapter 6: The Seven Marks of Compassion
- Men were abandoning their families, young people running away. Charities tried to connect individuals with their families to receive help. “Relief given without reference to friends and neighbors is accompanied by moral loss. Poor neighborhoods are doomed to grow poorer and more sordid, whenever the natural ties of neighborliness are weakened by our well-meant but unintelligent interference.” (p. 102) (Mary Richmond of Baltimore Charity Organization Society)
- If applicants were really alone (no family, friends, neighbors) they bonded with volunteers, who became their surrogate family. Slowly people changed through these interactions.
- “The key was personal willingness to become deeply involved.” (p. 105)
- Not everyone was treated equally. Applicants were categorized. Those who needed more were given more. Those unworthy of relief received none. (“Volunteers who were tender-hearted but not particularly forceful served as helpers to the helpless.” (p. 104))
- Sometimes what was needed was simply to find work for the applicants
- Work tests (e.g. cutting wood or sewing on garments donated to the helpless poor) seemed to be very effective in sorting out people willing to work. It gave applicants a way to earn their keep, it provided goods to give to those in need (e.g. wood for widows in the winter), and it taught people good habits.
- Discernment was required to prevent fraud.
- “Mary Richmond wrote that her hardest task was the teaching of volunteers ‘whose kindly but condescending attitude has quite blinded them to the everyday facts of the neighborhood life.’ To be effective, volunteers ahd to leave behind ‘a conventional attitude towards the poor, seeing them through the comfortable haze of our own excellent intentions, and content to know that we wish them well, without being at any great pains to know them as they really are.’ Volunteers had to learn that ‘well-meant interference, unaccompanied by personal knowledge of all the circumstances, often does more harm than good and becomes a temptation rather than a help.’” (p. 107)
- Discernment was also necessary to prevent those who actually were working hard from becoming discouraged. “nothing is more demoralizing to the struggling poor than successes of the indolent or vicous.” (p. 107)
- “It was also important for every individual approached by a beggar to be discerning—and teaching that proved to be a very difficult task! Charities Review once asked a designer of an innovative program whether its success satisfied ‘the “gusher” who desires to give every evening baggar 25 cents.” S.O. Preston replied, ‘No, nothing satisfies the “gusher”; he will persist in giving his (or someone else’s) money to every plausible beggar as often as he appears.’ The magazine was filled with criticism of ‘that miscalled charity which soothes its conscience with indiscriminate giving.’ Gurteen called giving moreny to alcoholics ‘positively immoral’ and argued that if givers could ‘forsee all the misery which their so-called charity is entailing in the future,’ they would ‘forgo the flutter of satisfaction which always follows a well-intentioned deed.’” (p. 108-9)
- Long term employment had to be found. And charity was not to be given without work.
- “All charity leaders argued that even poor-paying jobs provided a start on the road from poverty; since travel down that road required solid work habits, true friendship meant challenging bad habits and encouraging a person to build new, productive ones.” (p. 110-111)
- Freedom was “defined by immigrants (such as my grandparents) not as the opportunity to do anything with anyone at any time, but as the opportunity to work and worship without governmental restriction. Job freedom was the opportunity to drive a wagon without paying bribes, to cut hair without having to go to barbers’ college, and to get a foot on the lowest rung of the ladder, even if wages there were low. Freedom was the opportunity for a family to escape dire poverty by having a father work long hours and a mother sew garments at home.” (p. 111)
- Obviously government subsidies could not provide this...
- “if charity organizations were to do better, they had to make sure the poor understood that ‘dirt and slovenliness are no claim to help; that energy and resource are qualities which the helper or helpers will gladly meet half-way.’ Freedom could be grasped only when individuals took responsibility.” (p. 112)
- Christians emphasized that the Holy Spirit would change the consciences of those who God called.
- Chapter 7: And Why Not Do More?
- The 1890s saw much progress in the condition of the poor, and saw many charities doing excellent work. So people asked why people needed to suffer at all.
- Those with a Biblical view of man knew that some men and women would always seek out the gutters and also drag others down. And McAuley know that sometimes people had to visit the pit before they could be changed.
- The problem was that helping people personally was too slow, that the lives of the masses were not being changed.
- Social Universalists wanted to transform all lives (not just the lives of the worthy poor). “Their theology, labeled with public relations brilliance the ‘social gospel,’ emphasized God’s love but not God’s holiness, and thus urged charity without challenge. Their gospel declared that the work test was cruel, because a person who has faced a ‘crushing load of misfortunes’ should not be faulted if he does not choose to work: “We ask ourselves whether we should have done any better if we had always lived in one room with six other people.“‘ Herron, Ely, and others argued that challenge was not necessary because individuals who needed to change would do so as soon as they were placed in a pleasant environment so that their true, benevolent natures could come out.” (p. 121)
- Clearly the best way to effect mass change was through the government.
- Hull House, in Chicago, was staffed with volunteers who “were often good-hearted people with a desire to be compassionate in the true, suffering with sense of the word—but they wanted to save the world, not the individual.” (p. 124)
- In the effort to effect mass change, the 7 principles were ignored. People saw the success of programs like the Salvation Army, which used creative work programs very effectively and which had a record of transforming lives, but ignored the spiritual aspect and asked why the same could not be done on a larger scale.
- Chapter 8: Excitement of a New Century
- “A new spirit was evident as the twentieth century began. There was so much to do! The problems were so great! Cautionary tales about the easy slide from poverty into pauperism seemed unimportant in a new era [where] ... every problem of ‘social misery and wrong’ will be solved, [Rev. Dr. R. M.] Newton proclaimed, by those with ‘a genuine and earnest and passionate desire for the betterment of mankind.’” (p. 134)
- People were very optimistic that people were loving each other more and more and that the problems of mankind could and would be solved in the twentieth century.
- “In particular, the new social understanding attacked the biblical concept of a sinful human nature. Man’s basic nature was not corrupt, but good; there were sins but not sin, evil acts but not evil. Problems arose from social conditions rather than inherent moral corruption. The Encyclopedia of Social Reform stated that ‘almost all social thinkers are now agreed that the social evils of the day arise in large part from social wrongs.’ Frank Dekker Watson, director of the Pennsylvania School for Social Service and professor of sociology and social work at Haverford College, concluded that ‘no person who is interested in social progress can long be content to raise here and there an individual.’ Nor was there any need to be content with such a limited objective; since actions were determined by environmental factors, a bad environment caused men and women to engage in activities which eventually left them shuffling off to a mission. A good environment would save all. Compassion meant accepting wrongful activity and postponing any pressure to change until the person was in a good environment.” (p. 136-7)
- “Just as it was considered unfair within the lew, liberal theology that anyone should go to Hell—if there were something called sin, God was considered responsible for it—so it was unfair that anyone should physically suffer in this life. The universalistic theology that all must be saved, regardless of their belief and action, was matched by a universalistic sociology that all must receive provision.” (p. 137)
- “More changes in thinking followed. If the key goal was provision of material aid but not personal changine in the individual receiving aid, programs could be measured by the amount of material transferred; nonquantifiable considerations that complicated the evaluation could be dropped. Just as Social Universalists believed God would be unjust were He to leave any souls unsaved, so they criticized the new god—centralized government, as Fremantle has argued—for acting unjustly should any bodies remain unfed.” (p. 137)
- Many states began to pass widows’ pensions (which were really abandoned mothers’ pensions). Some worried that this would increase the number of abandoned mothers.
- Child welfare was passed.
- Social workers began to be more “professional”. They saw themselves as providing a service to clients. Volunteers were less likely to be assigned to families because they were not professionals. As professionalism grew among social workers, they had fewer relationships with the poor. Many social workers refused to live with the people they worked for.
- Boards of charities no longer had opportunities to serve at the charity and became fundraising efforts. People were less likely to volunteer.
- Chapter 9: Selling New Deals in Old Wineskins
- The Depression greatly increased the number of people in need. Most did not want to accept the “dole,” however, because it was shameful. Most people would try to get aid (loans or gifts) from savings, family, friends first. Only 25% of people in New Haven in 1933 had sought governmental relief.
- “A half-century after the New Deal, Kentucky journalist John Pearce recalled, ‘I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us’ that the New Deal legacy would be ‘a welfare system that today supports millions who have neither prospect nor intention of earning their own living.’” (p. 153)
- Most New Deal programs were sold as work. The WPA provided opportunities for men to provide for their families without, instead of just taking money from the dole.
- Some people wanted more programs: “[Donald] Howard was in the mainstream of new social work thinking; ... like many of his colleagues, Howard wanted relief to be depersonalized and a structure of ‘rights’ established, so that ‘no person would have the discretionary power to deny to any eligible applicant the aid to which he is entitled.’ Like Grace Abbott, Howard opposed background checks and instead proposed that benefits ‘be paid upon a worker’s declaration that he was without work and that his family was of a given size, without recourse to humiliating investigations either of his own needs and resources or of those of close relatives.’” (p. 164)
- Men like Howard did not even think that the dole demoralized men, and even yearned for the time when public mores were not so old-fashioned as to expect work in exchange for money.
- Chapter 10: Revolution and Its Heartbreak
- “Before the push for a Great Society began, recipients themselves often viewed welfare as a necessary wrong, but not a right. Two gatekeepers—the welfare office and the applicant’s own conscience—scrutinized each applicant. A sense of shame was relied upon to make people reluctant to accept ‘the dole’ unless absolutely necessary; for those without shame, welfare officials were to ask hard questions and investigate claims.” (p. 167)
- “In the housing project, [columnist Walter] Williams wrote, ‘My sister and I were “latchkey” kids, but no sweat, latchkey had not yet become an excuse. Mom’s rules were, “Come in from school, get a snack, do your homework, and don’t leave the hose.” None of us could remember an instance of a kid using foul language in addressing, or within earshot of, a parent, teacher or any adult.’” (p. 168)
- “Adults were expected to work and children were expected to read, Williams noted, for the 1950s’ decade was before ‘we stopped holding people accountable for their behavior and began assigning blame to society.’ Those who started to deviate received neighborly pressure to get back into line. But, in the 1960s, attitudes changed. Suddenly it became better to accept welfare than to take in laundry.” (p. 168)
- People were told that things like doing laundry or shining shoes was demeaning and that by accepting the dole, you could keep your dignity.
- “Authors Elizabeth Wickenden and Winifred Bell ... opposed any emphasis on personal responsibility for economic problems: there should be no penalty for able-bodied and mentally competent individuals who, for whatever reason, were unable ‘to hold a job, to spend their money sensibly ... or otherwise rise to the challenges of social responsibility.’” (p. 169)
- A study sponsored by the Ford Foundation suggested that money could fix the problem: it would only cost $10 billion [1960s money] to raise everyone to the subsistence level; this amounted to under 10% of tax revenues. If money would fix the problem, then the government is clearly the answer.
- The National Council of Churches argued that the rich had a moral responsibility to provide handouts. (The National Association of Evangelicals stressed bringing people to Christ, however)
- The majority of society considered poverty to be a socially caused problem, therefore it could be eliminated by society.
- The National Welfare Rights Organization spent time and effort convincing welfare recipients that the problem was not themselves, but society, and that they should not be ashamed of taking welfare.
- Many young lawyers of the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Legal Services fought strongly for the NWRO’s causes. They got many rules struck down: “Rules that welfare officials, without extensive hearings, could declare a person employable and require him to take a job, were struck down. Rules that women receiving AFDC could not have a ‘man in the house’ were struck down. Rules that recipients suspected of fraud had to answer questions of else face possible loss of subsidy, were struck down.” (p. 181)
- “The law became a handmaiden of income transfer, and a way of battering anyone who stood in the way. ‘Justice’ equalled income redistribution, and government officials soon worked alongside protestors.” (p. 182)
- In the mid to late 1960s, the number of welfare recipients exploded, and it continued. AFDC supported 4.3 million people in 1965 and 10.8 million in 1974. “Administrators were astounded by the sudden leap. Year after year officials muttered that the increase ‘can’t go on, it can’t go on, but it does.’ By 1970, applicants and subsidies reached ‘levels that would have been unimaginable two or three years ago.’ ... officials observed that a prime reason for the surge was ‘a changing outlook among many poor and the near poor.’ They had been taught by organizers that welfare is ‘nothing to be ashamed of.’” (p. 183)
- Chapter 11: Questions of the 1970s and 1980s
- “Lyndon Johnson’s economic advisers warned in 1964 that the poverty rate, in the absence of federal action, could be as high as 13 percent by 1980. After sixteen years of multibillion-dollar programs, the poverty rate at the end of that year was—13 percent.” (p. 185)
- Social mobility decreased. “Lack of mobility was not caused by lack of opportunity—the dramatic successes of immigrants from Asia and Cuba during recent decades show that. Those who adopted the traditional work-hard-and-rise pattern by staying out of the welfare system usually succeeded in rising—but native-born Americans who took advantage of the proferred liberality stayed put. Some welfare recipients even gave up jobs and educational opportunities in order to remain in the poor but secure spot that welfare payments afforded them.” (p. 185)
- Marriage suffered, as well. No-fault divorce spread, and women knew that husbands could leave at any whim. Government programs actually broke family bonds: if a teenage mother wanted AFDC, she had to live by herself. The payments look big to a teenager, but the price is leaving your family, which could help provide for you and give you opportunities.
- Individual giving dropped 13% from 1960 to 1976 and philanthropic giving to social welfare dropped 9%
- “A Christian Science Monitor interviewee noted that many of her pauperized associates remained poor because they were ‘satisfied’ on welfare: ‘If they’d rebel against it, they’d get out of it.’” (p. 190)
- “Throughout [the 1980s] the Washington Post continued to employ the word ‘compassionate’ as a euphemism for ‘more-heavily-funded.’” (p. 194) "In one month in five major newspapers, the word ['compassion'] was used three hundred times, largely as a synonym for ‘leniency.’ Chicago lawyers asked a judge to be ‘compassionate’ when sentencing a sheriff’s deputy for selling cocaine. California lawyers asked a jury to have compassion for an accuseed murderer by letting him off. Baseball star Steve Garvey asked for compassion when he exercised his passion through informal bigamy or trigamy.” (p. 196)
- Chapter 12: Putting Compassion into Practice
- Single-parent “programs that declared themselves ‘compassionate’ were often the opposite, because they tended to emphasize individual autonomy.” (p. 201)
- Programs do not emphasize affiliation and bonding, but just providing for needs. The economic problems of single parents and their children “clearly grew out of a breakdown of affiliation: children almost always are poor because they do not have fathers living with and supporting them.” (p. 201 - 202)
- “Today, a single, family-based standard of morality taught and communicated through every way possible and supported by state and private programs, remains the major antipoverty weapon.” (p. 204)
- Jim and Anne Pierson, of House of Creation, live in a large house and provide for pregnant women. “The Piersons learned that the family structure of their home was crucial, because most of the women who stayed with them had lacked a good family life. They had never seen a healthy mother-father or husband-wife relationship, and so had become cynics about marriage.” (p. 204) They also formed the Christian Maternity Home/Single Parent Association, which has 32 homes where the house parents help the residents live with rules and responsibilities. They are a unapologetic Christian organization.
- Dan McMurray researched homelessness by living on the street in many cities in the U.S. “McMurry noted, ‘I was never asked to do anything I did not want on the streets.’” Once he smashed styrofoam cups in front of an old gentleman cleaning up trash; the man just smiled at him and picked up the pieces. Olasky asks, “Was McMurry, when he was treated as an infant in a high chair (and not even given a firm ‘no') treated with compassion?” (p. 208)
- Olasky spent two days on the street: “In two days I was given lots of food, lots of pills of various kinds, and lots of offers of clothing and shelter. I was never asked to do anything, not even remove my tray after eating. ... Most of the helpers were nice. But were they compassionate? Were ‘homeless advocates’ compassionate when they worked hard to develop the myth that the homeless are ‘people like us’ who have been victimized by situations beyond their control? Most are not ordinary folk down on their luck, unless the ‘us’ are alcoholics, addicts, shiftless, or insane. ... Many left their homes voluntarily because they did not want to be with their families or accept any obligations; others were thrown out temporarily because of drug abuse or violent behavior.” (p. 209)
- “The solution to [the problem of the mentally ill] only seems difficult because of an [sic] pervasive unwillingness to categorize. But it is clear to anyone who walks the street that the insane homeless who are unable to help themselves desperately need asylum, both in the current meaning of that word and in its original meaning of safety. ... If we find a little girl wandering the streets at midnight, few of us will give her a chocolate chip cookie and feel that we have acted with compassion. Why should we act differently to others who are also lost in the dark?” (p. 211)
- “The Mumbling Majority of the homeless, however, are men who are alone, who have been told that it is fine to be alone, and who have become used to receiving subsidy in their chosen life-style. Most of the homeless—three fourths of all men in a Baltimore study conducted by clinicians from Johns Hopkins University—are substance abusers. Many of the homeless alcoholics have families, but do not want to be with them. Those who have been married have often abandonded their wives and children. Many of the homeless have had jobs, but they just do not want to stick to them; some prefer the freedom of having odd jobs and being able to move around. In Schiff’s psychiatric summary, ‘Almost all lack the sense of personal “structuring” necessary to maintain steady employment.’” (p. 212)
- “As Dan McMurry notes, in any city, some individuals are ‘barely hanging on'; the establishment of street services ends up ‘pulling the weakest loose from the fabric of the community onto the pavement.’ ... Schiff’s similar conclusion was, ‘The greater the monetary value of the benefits ... the larger the number of people wiling to consider homelessness as a viable option.’ Most of the homeless, of course, would prefer to have permanent residences that would include rooms with views, but they are ‘subsidized to not obtain the skills and make the sacrifices necessary to obtain such housing, when substandard accommodation is available free.’” (p. 212)
- In 1980s Believers Fellowship in Houston organized a way for the homeless to trade work for food and shelter: the church asked nearby businesses and residents for work projects and organized the homeless men to do them. They also set up an apprenticeship program to train those without skills.
- “The Gospel Mission in inner city Washington, D.C., ... works on the homeless in the way Superintendent Lincoln Brooks, Jr., describes: ‘We challenge them. We don’t pat them on the back and say it’s society’s fault. They have to own up to their own faults. There’s no free ride. If a guy’s drunk and he comes to the back door, he can come in and go to sleep, but his bottle has to stay out. If he comes in and he’s obnoxious, we have him walk around the block till he sobers up.’ ... '"use us but don’t abuse us.” We’re long-suffering, but we’ll keep confronting the alcoholic. Sometime [sic] we take a picture of a drunken guy passed out so he can see it when he wakes up. “Who’s that on the sidewalk?” “That’s you.” We don’t let people stay as they are. It’s sickening to see a grown man go around bumming and begging. We have to put that pressure on.’ The difficulty in applying the pressure, however, is that pressureless shelters are available only a few blocks away; again, bad compassion can drive out good. Brooks describes the choice of a person coming to the Gospel Mission: ‘Either he’ll stop or (we hope not) he’ll leave. Other places let him look at other things—Vietnam, Reaganomics, everything except the individual. They talk about the right to be homeless, people owing you a living. They want a Department of Homelessnes.’ But Brooks has concluded from his years of experience that ‘a program to be effective must be redemptive.’” (p. 215-6)
1 In a private communication in 2007, Myra Cross, who runs the Dreams Center in Austin, TX, communicated similar sentiments to this reviewer.