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all this increase of poverty, and vice arise ? Is there anything in the system of charity, either public or private, hitherto pursued in this city, which has a tendency to bring about so deplorable a result ?
Your Committee, after much consideration, are obliged to acknowledge that, in their opinion, there is such a tendency; a tendency to increase poverty and to multiply imposture and vice tenfold. And though they are not willing to admit with some, that “more than two thirds of all now given in charity, either directly or indirectly, fosters intemperance,” they are fully of opinion that not more than one half of what is given in charity goes to the actual relief or prevention of real distress.
They request your earnest and serious attention to the remarks they shall make on this point.
The number of Societies devoted to purposes of benevolence in one form or another in this city, so far, as your Committee have been able to ascertain, are twentyone. Of these, five give groceries and wood ; twelve give clothes to children and adults; three aid in paying rent, and one affords employment. This statement, it must be remembered, does not include a very considerable amount of funds given to the poor by the several religious societies of different denominations in the city ; nor the garments given by Teachers to the children who attend many of our Sunday schools.
It does not embrace the funds bestowed by the city from the Pemberton fund; by the British Society; Irish Society; Charitable Society; Charitable Me
chanic Association ; Humane Society; Charitable Fire Society ; Charitable Association of the Boston Fire Department ; Scottish Society; the Charitable Societies attached to the Masonic Institution ; Massachusetts Hospital; Boston Female Asylum; Asylum for Indigent Boys, and the Lying-in Hospital : nor the very large amount of funds bestowed yearly by private charity.
All these sources of benefit and relief, and they are neither few nor small, which the poor of our city enjoy, we have left out of our estimate entirely, not having sufficient information with respect to their particular objects or modes of proceeding.
Among the Societies first named, and which are represented in this meeting, it appears to be a general rule not to assist any poor person until he has been visited by one of the Executive Committee, and his wants and situation ascertained to his or her satisfaction. Your Committee consider the rule a very good and necessary one, but at the same time, they fear that too much reliance has been placed upon its efficacy by such committees. So long as all the various benevolent societies in the city act independently of each other in visiting the poor and in bestowing their funds upon them, so long, it is plain, it will be utterly impossible for any committee, with all their scrutiny into the appearances which present themselves, to ascertain with certainty the real deserts of any individual they may visit.
How can the members of a committee tell how many societies and individuals have already assisted an applicant, or how many have found out that he deserves no assistance whatever ? He will not tell them; he may be the recipient of bounty from a dozen different sources, and they be not the wiser for it, or his vices may have stopped the supply from every other source and they be ignorant of the fact. The poor find out how many Societies there are, and how ignorant they are of each other's doings, and they take advantage of this ignorance for their own benefit. And what is the consequence? Those who have the least moral principle and the most art, and, of course, who deserve no charity, stand the best chance of obtaining the largest share. And this is true in point of fact, as many instances within the knowledge of your Committee, if recited, would show. Those who are unacquainted with the business of distributing charity would be astonished to find how soon the poor ascertain the name of every Society of a benevolent kind in the city, and the character and disposition of every individual engaged in distributing its funds; how readily they calculate the chances of success with one and the other, and how skilfully they take advantage of the ignorance of Committees to supply their real or pretended wants. Even the better sort of poor take advantage of this condition of things, and by going successively from one Society to another, receive monthly assistance from several different committees, who are each ignorant of the fact, and who each consider the amount given by itself all that is necessary or judicious. One or two feet of wood once a month is to be sure not too much for a poor man, but the same quantity from ten or twelve different Societies amounts to no inconsiderable sum, and, to say nothing of the habits of vice and idleness it encourages, is a serious tax upon the public.
Your Commitee fear that this practice has been encouraged by the habit, which has lately prevailed among our Societies, of sending applicants for charity from one standing committee to another; and they hope that, if the present system is still to prevail, some agreement will be entered into before this meeting is dissolved to prevent this evil at least. Not unfrequently, the name of the committee sending an applicant is too much relied upon, and aid is rendered, when, in fact, the persons sending him know nothing of his character, and expect the committee to whom he is sent to visit hin and ascertain all the facts of the case, before they afford relief.
Your Committee call the attention of this meeting to another incidental point, of some importance to be known. Inquiries are often made of applicants for charity whether they have received assistance from any of the various benevolent societies, (as, for example, from the Howard Society, the Widows' Society, or the City), and the reply is, “No, we have not received anything from any Society.” If, however, the inquiry is pressed further, and the party is asked whether he has not received aid from Mr A, Mr B, or Mr C, members of the Howard and Widows' Societies, the answer is given at last, “Oh! yes, Mr A assisted me, and Mr B gave me a little ; but I did not know that it came from these Societies." Two or three cases have recently come to the knowledge of your Committee in which gross attempts were made to deceive by this species of prevarication; in many cases where this is done, the deception is doubtless unintentional.
The chances of obtaining a large supply of necessaries
from those Societies that do not coöperate together are, in the opinion of many of the poor, so great that they are often entirely unwilling to agree to accept the bounty of any one association, though it may be ade. quate to all their real wants.
Your Committee can state, in proof of this remark, that an offer was recently made, by a gentleman, to an aged woman and her daughter, to supply them with everything they might need beyond what they could earn by their own labor, provided they would promise not to apply for assistance to any other person or society. The proposition was not by any means cordially received, and the reply given was, “If you will only aid us to a little wood and groceries this month we will trouble you no farther; for we can get along very well after that, as we can procure enough from other Societies to last us through the two next months.” This example, and it is only one out of many that might be mentioned, shows sufficiently with what ease a comfortable support during the winter may, in the opinion of the poor themselves, be obtained from our Societies under their present organization, by a little exertion and ingenuity.
If the true aim of charity is to induce the poor 10 take care of themselves by earning a livelihood with the labor of their own hands, and to render them pecuniary assistance only when they are old, or sick, or disabled from bodily exertion, or unable to find work after diligent inquiry ; if it is not its aim to encourage idleness, extravagance and imposition, it becomes those who dispense charity in this city to stop in their course and inquire, seriously," whether these things ought so to be.”