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If to the results exhibited by these figures be added the great number of cases in which undeserving and unprincipled beggars and idlers have been ferreted out, and prevented from preying on the sympathies of those whom they had deceived, an aggregate of service to the community will have been indicated, which can hardly fail to commend the Association, by which it has been rendered, to the most favorable consideration of the City Authorities.
In the performance of this service, the officers and managers of the Association have been constantly impressed with the importance of a greater concentration of the charities of the city, and of more consolidation and union among the institutions by which those charities are administered. There are, as is well known, a large number of independent sources to which the poor of Boston may now look for relief. There are the Overseers of the Poor, administering an amount from the City Treasury hardly less than fifty thousand dollars per annum.
There is the Howard Benevolent Society, nobly illustrating, according to its means, the spirit of the great philanthropist by whose name it has long been called. There is the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, diligently and most successfully devoted to securing the opportunities of useful and profitable labor to all who are able and willing to work. There is the Young Men's Benevolent Society, worthily carrying out a mission most fitly undertaken by those just entering on the responsibilities of manhood. Other institutions might also be named, of a less general character, which do an important part in the care of the poor, and which unite with that represented by the undersigned in making up the great organized machinery of benevolence and beneficence in our community. The undersigned desire to do full justice to the course of their sister associations, and to claim nothing for themselves which they are not willing to concede to others.
But the experience of the last few years has convinced them, that so many separate and independent organizations cannot conduct the extensive and responsible work which they have undertaken, with the desired economy or success, without larger opportunities and conveniences for mutual understanding and co-operation than have heretofore existed. Could the greater
number of these associations, if not all of them, be merged in a common organization, embracing the system and principles of each, and especially not omitting those particular features of systematic visitation and investigation which the Boston Provident Association first introduced into the general charities of our city, the undersigned are confident that better care would be taken of the deserving poor, a more certain and complete detection await the undeserving and profligate beggar, and a far greater satisfaction be afforded to the generous contributors of the funds by which the work is accomplished. A consummation and consolidation of this sort, it is earnestly hoped by the undersigned, may at no very distant day, in whole or in part, be accomplished.
In the mean time, however, a plan has presented itself to your petitioners, which will secure immediately many of the advantages of a complete consolidation of our charitable societies, and will, in their judgment, greatly conduce to the economical and successful administration of the labor of love which these societies have undertaken to perform.
This plan is, simply, the bringing together into close contiguity, and, if possible, beneath a common roof, in convenient apartments and in some central part of the city, of the offices of all the principal authorities and associations which are recognized as prominently connected with our system of general charity.
The results of such a collocation would, in the opinion of the undersigned, be in the highest degree beneficial to the honest and deserving poor; while it would afford great facilities to all who are in any way interested in their relief.
In the first place, there would be a common and known locality to which all applicants for charity would find their way, or be directed; where they would come within the reach and observation of all the various managers of the different institutions of benevolence; and where they could readily be pointed to the office of the particular association within whose province their case might fall. This common place of resort of the poor for relief might, under the direction of proper officers of police, be kept open in the night, as well as in the daytime, and thus the frequent and painful embarrassment which is experienced from applications for relief at the doors of private houses, after all the offices of benevolent institutions are closed, would be obviated, and one of the most successful and systematic modes of imposition be effectually broken up.
Such a common and central headquarters for the administration of our city charities would, in the next place, afford opportunity for the most complete mutual understanding and cooperation of the different institutions for the relief of the poor. The managers of each would be enabled to obtain, easily and without delay, all the information, in regard to every individual applicant, which might be in possession of any of the others; and a great security would thus be created against the too common abuse of parties obtaining aid simultaneously or successively from several sources, and against the still more common abuse of undeserving persons obtaining aid at all. The books of each association, containing whatever had been ascertained, favorable or unfavorable, as to the character and condition and habits of the various applicants for relief, would be open and accessible to all; and, if the books of this association be a fair criterion, an immense amount of unmerited and injurious bounty would thus be intercepted. Few things would conduce more towards the great object of saving for the really destitute and deserving the sums now too often squandered upon imposture and vice, than such a common system of registration as would result from the plan thus proposed.
In the third place, a much more exact and systematic division of duty and of labor might in this way be instituted ; separate associations confining themselves to distinct and separate departments of charity, without the fear of leaving any meritorious poor person unprovided, and being able to refer immediately any one not within their own sphere of service to the sister association to which the case might appropriately belong
The undersigned confine themselves to these simple views of the expediency of the arrangement which they propose, assured that its more general advantages will be obvious to all who shall consider it. They have ventured to anticipate a day, when, under the patronage of the City Government, a building may be secured in some central part of the city, which shall be specially and exclusively assigned to the organization and administration of the charities of our community, and which the poor shall all recognize as the appointed place for their relief. Here the Overseers of the Poor, elected by the people, would naturally have the principal office. Around them would be gathered such other public Boards as may from time to time be intrusted with the charitable institutions of our city. The Boston Dispensary would find a fit place here, and the managers of such poorhouses, asylums, and hospitals as come within the circle of our municipal charities. Around them, in apartments assigned for the purpose, the Howard Benevolent Society, the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, the Young Men's Benevolent Society, and the Boston Provident Association, might have their offices, with any other associations which now or hereafter may commend themselves to the public authorities as worthy of being included in such an establishment. A common arrangement of furnaces and gas would supply heat and light for them all, in a much more economical way than while they are all scattered in different localities; and something of common superintendence and management would soon be introduced. Time, money, agency, every thing, would thus be economized, and a larger proportion of the contributions of the wealthy be left for the relief of the needy. Such a collocation and centralization of the various institutions of benevolence could hardly fail to lead ultimately to such an entire consolidation of our charitable system as, the undersigned are convinced, would be eminently desirable to all concerned, whether as givers, receivers, or managers. But, even if the separate organizations should still be permanently maintained, many of the disadvantages which are now experienced would be remedied, and the most economical, just, and prudent discharge of the great work of benevolence would be materially promoted.
The undersigned have been led to believe that such an arrangement may reasonably be claimed of our Municipal Government by the charitable institutions of this community; and that it would well become our city, in its corporate capacity, to provide convenient and permanent apartments for the associations which take upon themselves the care of the poor. The City Government have, for a long time past, if not always, provided suitable quarters for the Fire Companies of Boston, even while the system was a volunteer one, and while the losses resulting from fire are sure to fall either on individual owners or upon associated insurance companies. The City Government have also provided convenient and spacious rooms for the armories of our Volunteer Militia, and would hardly fail to continue to do so, even if no part of the expense were refunded from the treasury of the Commonwealth, rightly and wisely recognizing them as constituting an essential part of the police of our city. But the care of the poor, apart from its higher relations to Christian duty, is hardly less a matter of police, in a great city like ours, than the civil or military organizations which more directly and obviously pertain to the preservation of property or of the public peace. It is, and ought to be, a municipal obligation to supervise the relief of the worthy poor, and the detection of the unworthy beggar, in some way or other; and hardly any mode of discharging this obligation would be more effective than the organization of such an establishment as has now been suggested.
The undersigned do not hesitate to acknowledge, in behalf of the association which they represent, that one of the views which have led them at this time to urge upon the City Government the adoption of the plan they have now proposed, is to save their own funds from the annual expense of providing suitable quarters for the administration of the work in which they are engaged, and to secure a convenient office for that purpose in some public building. They have, thus far, observed the greatest practical economy in this respect. But they find their present accommodations inadequate; and they are reluctant to expend more of the money, collected for the benefit of the poor, in hiring larger and more convenient apartments, more especially in view of the serious increase of their responsibilities, and the no less serious diminution of their resources, which can hardly fail to result, during the approaching winter, from the present financial revulsion. They are unwilling
They are unwilling to conclude, therefore, without a distinct petition to the City Authorities, that a suitable office may be assigned them, in some central locality, at the public charge.