To mark the 180th anniversary of its founding, The Inquirer is reprinting an article from its archives every Monday for 18 weeks. Today's offering, the eighth in our series, was published on Jan. 25, 1893, and describes the challenges of dealing with the city's growing homeless population. The story includes an early census of "wayfarers."
During the recent cold spell the city badly felt the need of adequate provision for destitute wayfarers. And the wayfarers themselves felt an additional sting from the fact that the Police Department, as a general thing, instead of sheltering them, turned them over to a private charity, the two "Wayfarers' Lodges," and if these places were filled, as they have been for the last month, to overflowing, the homeless must shift for themselves, for in the whole city, save a few suburban district station houses, and two in the "slums district," there is not another place to receive them.
A man stranded in the city would be compelled to go to one of the "lodges" and spend five hours the next morning, when he might be searching for work, in sawing wood to pay for his supper, breakfast and lodging. If he be physically able to perform the work, and refuses, he is sent to the House of Correction for three months on a charge of vagrancy. The city, with a population of over a million, can only - through the Wayfarers' Lodges - furnish, say, one hundred and twenty men beds, and, at a pinch, allow thirty more to sleep on the floor. The city does not even own these plants. They are run under the auspices of the Society for Organizing Charity.
The utmost capacity of the lodge at 1719 Lombard Street is fifty, thirty-six in beds and fourteen on the floor. Hundreds are sent away from this place to the Laurel Street Lodge, where the conditions are a trifle better, its capacity being one hundred. The police send all wayfarers to these places, and when they are filled there is nothing for the unfortunate to do except to bunk out of doors.
Many of the station houses have ample accommodations to care for these people, but the rule allowing them to do so has been discontinued; consequently, the number of people applying to that source for relief grows smaller and smaller each year, until now only a very small percentage of their patrons come from that source.
When application is made for a night's lodging the applicant's name is registered and he is given a good supper and a bath and then sent to bed. In the morning he starts in to earn his lodging and food. Occasionally a man resists the rule compelling him to work, in which case he is turned over to the authorities.
During the month of December, 1892, there were sheltered in the Lombard Street Lodge, 1255 men, 177 women and 10 children. To these people were given 2821 meals. For the first twenty-one days of January, when the mercury was feeling around zero, there were 958 men, 115 women and 12 children, making a total of 1985, or an average of 50 per day, the full capacity. The women and children have rooms on the opposite side of Lombard street, and do washing and scrubbing in payment for their board and lodging.
L. Brookman, the superintendent, manages to keep the place exquisitely clean and neat, the floors sanded till they shine like snow, and the pots and pans burnished till they glitter like silver. In reply to a question as to whether they would let a man go free of his wood-sawing upon his statement that he was engaged to go to work the first thing in the morning, he replied that it all depended upon the man. If they had reason to believe that he was "beating" them he would compel him to work his full time, otherwise he would let him go.
"We have found it advisable to stop lodging applicants for shelter for some time," said Director Baltier. "In some of the outlying districts, such as Chestnut Hill, and at the Lombard and Union street station houses, we have provided accommodations for lodgers, but in other sections of the city we have found it much better to turn them over to the Wayfarers' Lodges."
"Suppose a respectable man, through unfortunate circumstances, became stranded in the city without money, what would be done with him?"
"He would be sent to the Wayfarers' Lodges and, in the morning, he would have to do his five hours work to pay for his accommodations," Director Baltier replied. "On the whole, we find that it has decreased the number of vagrants to a large degree and the worthy applicants are undoubtedly taken care of."
The exceptional cases noted by the Director during 1892 aggregated 11,889 and were cared for in nine districts, the distribution being: Third District, Fourth and Union, 149; Thirteenth, Manayunk, 1878; Fourteenth, Germantown, 1658; Fifteenth, Frankford, 2757; Nineteenth, Eighth and Lombard streets, 14; Twenty-first, Thirty-seventh street and Woodland avenue, 3744; Twenty-second, Lehigh and Park avenues, 1518; Twenty-fourth, Belgrade and Clearfield streets, 85; and the Twenty-seventh, Tacony, 592.