« PreviousContinue »
erect an edifice for the office of the overseers and for the accom modation of the societies above mentioned, and for such othercharitable associations as should be inclined to avail themselves of the privilege. This proposition was not at first attended with the success it merited, but before many years had elapsed it was adopted and carried out.
Another reform that was attempted, but which met with serious opposition, was to have the overseers elected by the City Council. As many persons were interested in retaining the law as it stood, it was not before 1864 that this change was effected, and the twelve overseers, instead of being chosen annually by popular vote in the wards, were elected by that body for three years with alternate vacancies. At their instance and request the authorities, with a subscription by private individuals, erected in a central position, at a cost of two hundred thousand dollars, a commodious edifice for their offices for the use of the several charitable societies engaged in out-door relief. Convenient apartments were appropriated to the Provident Association, and Industrial Aid Society, and to several other associations, including one for supplying the poor with garments, as also for the Soldiers' Funds, and at one period for a branch of the Boston Dispensary, which furnishes the poor with medical advice and medicines. A large room was provided for general consultation on subjects connected with charity and relief, and also for the stated meetings of the societies. To this bureau of charity, or Central Relief Building, for it was a part of the design that branches should be distributed about the city as the population increased, was attached a Temporary Home, where two or three hundred women and children can find shelter, and men, also, be supplied with food. Nearly three thousand inexpensive but wholesome meals have been furnished there in a single month in winter.
But the essential feature in this reform, as projected and carried out, was a more thorough investigation of individual cases, and a system of record and registration, already embracing seven thousand families, which enables the three paid visitors, secretary, and committee of investigation and relief from the overseers, to ascertain without delay whatever it is desirable to know in giving or withholding relief. In new cases the visitors enter upon the investigation paper the information to be procured as to settlement,
age, health, character, resources, and kindred, and these papers are numbered and filed fifty to a pigeon-hole, with the numbers corresponding to a similar record made in a large register, with alphabetical index, in which columns are devoted to family names most frequently recurring, and sufficient additional distinguishing particulars attached where both names are constantly repeated. These registers can be consulted by the agents of other organized charities, or private individuals, desirous of knowing the merits of any application for their bounty. The inhabitants generally are requested to send persons soliciting alms to the Relief Building, and police officers, being furnished with mendicity tickets for the purpose, instructed to direct there any one whom they learn is in need, and mendicants whom they find on their beats, or to send their address, if procured, where that course seems expedient.
Trusting that this deviation from the course indicated by the circular will be sufficiently explained, by our wish to present an intelligible view of the whole subject-matter of inquiry in the concisest form consistent with a full and comprehensive representation of our laws, policy, and practice, we proceed to reply to the several points suggested in their respective order.
In answer to the first point, it might be sufficient to refer to the general statutes and our manual herewith forwarded, for all the provisions of law which authorize or govern the relief of the poor, and we append thereto a list of our organized charities as complete as the knowledge we possess admits; in the hope that we may be able more satisfactorily to meet the purposes of the inquiry, we state the several classes of cases which the statutes of Massachusetts empower or direct the overseers to assist.
These are substantially three, -Gen. Stat. 1866, ch. 70, 71,
1. Every city or town shall relieve and support all poor and indigent persons lawfully settled therein, whenever they stand in need thereof. The Overseers of the Poor shall have the care and oversight of all such poor and indigent persons so long as they remain in charge of the respective cities or towns, and shall see that they are suitably relieved, supported, and employed, either in the workhouse, or almshouse, or in such other manner as the city or town directs, or otherwise, at the discretion of said overseers.
They may remove to the almshouse such children as are suffering destitution from extreme neglect of dissolute or intemperate parents or guardians.
2. Said overseers, in their respective places, shall provide for the immediate comfort and relief of all persons residing or found therein, having lawful settlements in other places, when they fall into distress and stand in need of immediate relief, and until they are removed to the places of their lawful settlements; the expenses whereof incurred within three months next before notice given to the place to be charged, as also of their removal, or burial, in case of their decease, may be recovered by the place incurring the same against the place liable therefor in an action of law to be instituted within two years after the cause of action arises, but not otherwise.
3. The Overseers of the Poor of each place shall also relieve, support, and employ all poor persons residing or found therein, having no lawful settlements within this State, until their removal to a State almshouse, and in case of their decease shall decently bury them; the expense whereof may be recovered of their kindred, if they have any, chargeable by law for their support (grandparents, parents, children, or grandchildren); and in case the expense thereof is not paid by such kindred, it shall be paid from the treasury of the Commonwealth. (Ch. 71.) No city or town shall send to either of the State almshouses any person infected with small-pox, or other disease dangerous to the public health, nor any other sick persons whose health would be endangered by removal; but all such persons liable to be maintained by the Commonwealth shall be supported during such sickness by the city or town in which they are taken sick, and notice shall be given to the Board of State Charities, who shall have authority to examine the case, and order the removal of the patient if they deem expedient.
It is further provided that the kindred of such poor persons (of all these three classes), in the line or degree of father or grandfather, mother or grandmother, children or grandchildren, by consanguinity, living in this State, and of sufficient ability, shall be bound to support such paupers in proportion to their respective ability, and this is recovered in the Superior Court, upon com. plaint of any city, town, or kindred, who shall have been at expense for the relief and support of such pauper, the assessment not to extend to any expense for relief afforded more than six months previous to the filing of the complaint.
The Overseers of the Poor are trustees of certain charitable foundations which yield an income of from twelve to fifteen thousand dollars, appropriated for the most part by the founders to those who have seen better days. This is divided in sums of forty dollars each, among about three hundred poor widows or single women, but few men being admitted to its benefits, though there is no exclusion of them by the terms of the trusts. To many of this class is further given, each winter, wood or coal for. firing. The overseers have another list of person's unable to earn their support, for the most part aged or infirm, who receive what are called pensions or grants, so much a month or quarter; the whole amount annually in any one case not exceeding one hundred dollars, and generally much less. There are on this roll three hundred and eighty-seven names, and the whole amount paid out the, last year (1870-'71) to this class of beneficiaries was fifteen thousand one hundred dollars.
Besides these two classes of regular pensioners, aid is furnished to applicants found to be needy, and having a settlement in Boston, forthwith, by the secretary and visitor; the cases, and the disposition made of them, whether aid is granted or refused, being reported to a committee of the Overseers on Investigation and Relief, who ineet once a month or oftener to approve the same, and take such further action as the circumstances of each case may demand. Money is rarely given to this class, and never without assurance that it will be neither wasted nor misapplied, but the relief consists chiefly of fuel and groceries, which are generally allowed, at stated times, once a week or month, till the parties, by recovery from sickness or finding employment, are able to take care of themselves. Where applicants, not having a settlement, bave no claim by law to relief from the city, or the settled poor need aid not in the power of the overseers to extend, the visitors are directed to help them in obtaining from other charities, garments, medical care, adınission to hospitals or asylums, work, or whatever else they may need. In the case of the
unsettled poor, whose health would suffer from removal to the State almshouse, the agent of the Board of State Charities is consulted, who authorizes the overseers to extend aid, which is reimbursed from the State treasury. To others, not fit subjects for either public or private charity, the almshouse test is rigorously applied ; they must go there of their own accord, or, if they choose to persist in begging, are sentenced there as vagrants.
During our late civil war State aid was liberally furnished to the families of soldiers and sailors, to the credit of the State or the city and town quotas, which, to the amount of six hundred thousand dollars last year for the whole State, and ninety thousand dollars for Boston alone, is continued where bereavement, wounds or sickness still require aid to be extended. Two funds, amounting to about one hundred and sixty thousand dollars, were, early in the war, contributed by individuals for the same object, some part of which is unexpended, and the distribution continues. Masons, Odd Fellows, several other mutual aid societies, and the many and various charities connected with our one hundred and sixty churches, all of which, besides their monthly communion collections for the poor of their own parishes, are actively engaged in good works, help a large number of those that need. We submit a list of some of the more important of the other institutions and associations which are more general in their field of work and more exclusively charitable in their objects, with the amounts they distribute and numbers they relieve. But of course any such list can afford hardly an approximate idea of what wealth and liberality contribute in Boston to poverty and want. It is not in any vain-glorious spirit that it is presented. Other cities probably have a much better record to show. But we know not how we can answer the inquiry unless by stating the truth as it is.
With the list is sent an almanac of 1871, containing the names and objects of our charitable agencies, for local reference and a guide for the charitable and their almoners; but it does not yield all the information presumed to be desired for the object in view.
Some of the institutions and associations enumerated, are of mixed nature, in part for mutual aid and in part for the poor, not especially entitled to their benefits as associates.