|English: Homeless man, Tokyo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Broke; A Man Without A Dime, Free eBook from Chuck Thompson
I was born on the 28th day of April, 1857, in the village of Port Byron, Rock Island County, Illinois. The waves of the grand old Mississippi sang my lullaby through a long and joyful childhood. So near at hand was the stream that I learned to swim and skate almost before I was out of kilts. My father, A. J. Brown, at that time was the leading merchant and banker in the town. We were an exceedingly happy and prosperous family of six.
My father died when I was seven years of age. My mother, a woman of exceptionally brilliant intellect and lovable character, has been with or near me almost all my life. She died in 1909 at the ripe age of eighty-four.
When a boy in my teens I attended school in Boston, where I spent four years. In the early eighties I moved to Colorado and have lived there ever since. In 1897 I was married, and the intense interest and sympathy my wife has shown in my crusade for the homeless has been one of my greatest encouragements. With no children for company, it has meant a great sacrifice on her part, for it broke up our home and voluntarily separated us for nearly two years.
I have often wondered why I should have been the one to make this crusade, for all my life I have loved solitude, and have always been over-sensitive to the criticism and opinions of others. My mission is not based upon any personal virtue of goodness, but I have been inspired with the feeling that I had taken up a just and righteous cause, and the incentive of all my efforts has ever been that of compassion—not to question whether a hungry man has sinned against society, but to ask why he is not supplied with the necessities of existence.[A]
I am trying to solve these questions: Are our efforts to help the unfortunate through the medium of our “Charities,” our “Missions,” and our churches all failures? Why is crime rampant in our cities? Why are our hospitals, almshouses, our jails, and our prisons crowded to overflowing? And these questions have resolved themselves for me into one mighty problem: Why is there destitution at all,—why is there poverty and suffering amidst abundance and plenty?
I am convinced that poverty is not a part of the great Eternal plan. It is a cancerous growth that human conventions have created and maintained. I believe it was intended that every human being should have food and shelter. Therefore I have not only asked “Why?” but I have tried to find the remedy. My crusade has been constructive and not destructive.
My mission is not to censure but to disclose facts. I am without political or economic bias.
I shall ask my reader to go with me and see for himself the conditions existing in our great cities,—to view the plight of the homeless, penniless wayfarer, who, because of the shortsightedness of our municipalities, is denied his right to decent, wholesome food and to sanitary shelter for a night. And my concern is not only the homeless man, but the homeless woman, for there are many such who walk our streets, and often with helpless babes at their breasts and little children at their sides. And after my reader has comprehended the condition that I shall reveal to him, I shall ask him to enlist himself in the cause of a Twentieth Century Free Municipal Emergency Home in every city, that shall prove our claims to righteousness and enlightenment.
To-day there is everywhere a growing sense of and demand for political, social, and economic justice; there is a more general and definite aim to elevate the condition of the less fortunate of our fellow-citizens; there are united efforts of scientific investigators to discover and create a firm foundation for practical reforms. I am simply trying to show the way to one reform that is practical, feasible, and—since the test of everything is the dollar—good business.
If I can succeed in showing that old things are often old only because they are traditional; that in evolution of new things lies social salvation; that the “submerged tenth” is submerged because of ignorance and low wages; and that the community abounds in latent ability only awaiting the opportunity for development,—then this volume will have accomplished its purpose.
I am determined to create a systematic and popular sympathy for the great mass of unfortunate wage-earners, who are compelled by our system of social maladjustment to be without food, clothing, and shelter. I am determined our city governments shall recognize the necessity for relief.
Let me not be misunderstood as handing out a bone, for an oppressive system. “It is more Godly to prevent than to cure.”
In these pages I shall undertake to show by many actual cases that the so-called “hobo,” “bum,” “tramp,” “vagrant,” “floater,” “vagabond,” “idler,” “shirker,” “mendicant,”—all of which terms are applied indiscriminately to the temporarily out-of-work man,—the wandering citizen in general, and even many so-called criminals, are not what they are by choice any more than you or I are what we are socially, politically, and economically, from choice.
I shall call attention to the nature and immensity of the problem of the unemployed and the wandering wage-earner, as such problem confronts and affects every municipality.
We find the migratory wage-earner, the wandering citizen, at certain seasons traveling in large numbers to and from industrial centers in search of work. Most of these wandering wage-earners have exhausted their resources when they arrive at their destination, and are penniless—“broke.” Because of the lack of the price to obtain a night’s lodging, or food, or clothing, they are compelled to shift as best they may, and some are forced to beg, and others to steal.
For the protection and good morals of society in general, for the safety of property, it is necessary that every municipality maintain its own Municipal Emergency Home, in which the migratory worker, the wandering citizen, can obtain pure and wholesome food to strengthen his body, enliven his spirit, and imbue him with new energy for the next day’s task in his hunt for work. It is necessary that in such Municipal Emergency Home the wanderer shall receive not only food and shelter, but it is of vital importance that he shall be enabled to put himself into presentable condition before leaving.
The purpose of each Municipal Emergency Home, as advocated in this volume, is to remove all excuse for beggary and other petty misdemeanors that follow in the wake of the homeless man. The Twentieth Century Municipal Emergency Home must afford such food and lodging as to restore the health and courage and self-respect of every needy applicant, free medical service, advice, moral and legal, and help to employment; clothing, given whenever necessary, loaned when the applicant needs only to have his own washed; and free transportation to destination wherever employment is offered. The public will then be thoroughly protected. The homeless man will be kept clean, healthy, and free from mental and physical suffering. The naturally honest but weak man will not be driven into crime. Suffering and want, crime and poverty will be reduced to a minimum.
In looking over the field of social betterment, we find that America is far behind the rest of the civilized world in recognizing the problems of modern social adjustment. We find that England, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway, and other nations have progressed wonderfully in their system of protecting their wandering citizens. All these nations have provided their wage earners with old-age pensions, out-of-work funds, labor colonies, insurance against sickness, labor exchanges, and municipal lodging houses.
Because of the manifest tendency to extend the political activities of society and government to the point where every citizen is provided by law with what is actually necessary to maintain existence, I advocate a divorce between religious, private, and public charities, and sincerely believe that it is the duty of the community, and of society as a whole, to administer to the needs of its less fortunate fellow-citizens. Experience with the various charitable activities of the city, State, and nation, has proven conclusively to me that every endeavor to ameliorate existing conditions ought to be, and rightly is, a governmental function, just as any other department in government, such as police, health, etc. The individual cannot respect society and its laws, if society does not in return respect and recognize the emergency needs of its less fortunate individuals. Popular opinion, sentiment, prejudice, and even superstitions, are often influential in maintaining the present-day hypocritical custom of indiscriminate alms giving, which makes possible our deplorable system of street mendicancy.
The object of the personal investigation and experiences presented in this volume is to lay down principles and rules for the guidance and conduct of the institution which it advocates.
The reader has a right to ask: How does this array of facts show to us the way to a more economical use of private and public gifts to the needy? Are there any basic rules which will help to solve the problem of mitigating the economic worth of the temporary dependent? I shall give ample answers to these queries.
In the hope that the facts here presented may bring to my reader a sense of the great work waiting to be done, and may move him to become an individual influence in the movement for building and conducting Twentieth Century Municipal Emergency Homes throughout our land, I offer this volume in a spirit of good-will and civic fellowship.
E. A. B.
Denver, September, 1913.