A challenge to Brady and other conservatives
Buy today's Wall Street Journal, Sept 15, 2004. Unfortunately the online version is paid subscription only, the paper itself will be cheaper.
The reason; section B on the left column has an article titled, "Before Social Security Most Americans Faced Very Bleak Retirement." As an added incentive the right column has this juicy headline, "Forgery Charges Could Damage CBS Credibility."
However, it's the left side I want to talk about. Brady and the other conservatives have consistently asked for proof that private charity was insufficient in the past. This article provides historical perspective including the limitations of state pension plans, pervasive age discrimination and the impact of the Great Depression and the impact of population migration from the farm to urban areas from the late 19th century into the 1930s (when Social Security was first enacted).
Rather than quote the entire article I'll simply sum up that if what Brady means by private charity was the poorhouse then all that needs be known is that Justice Benjamin Cardozo wrote for the bare 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court the following, "The hope behind this statute is to save men and women from the rigors of the poorhouse, as well as the haunting fear that such a lot awaits them when the journey's end is near."
In addition I subscribe to a number of lists and among them are church organists discussing recently the perils of doing good for the homeless. This one from Bud I will quote;
The Parish Secretary at the Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis was
MURDERED by a homeless person.
St. Matthew's has a door-bell on the outside door to the office. It
stays locked during the day.
Old St. Mary's left a side door open that was visible from the rectory
dining room. The retired housekeeper sat in her easy chair in the window
and watched TV from there. If she saw a drunk stagger in, she went
through the sacristy, picked up her trusty broom, and cleared him out in
a HURRY. She was 81 years old, about 5 feet tall, and afraid of NOTHING
and NOBODY on the face of this EARTH. I can still remember turning
around from the organ (fully a city block away and up in the second
balcony, so I was no help) when I'd hear Rose yelling, "SHOO! SHOO!" and
whacking some poor drunk over the head with a broom (chuckle).
One got past her and nearly burned Old St. Mary's down ... I came in to
practice and found a drunk asleep on the winding stairway to the organ
loft. I smelled something burning, and opened the closet under the
stairs where we kept the boxes of votive candles. He had lit them ALL in
the BOXES in an attempt to get warm. Fortunately there was a fire
extinguisher at the foot of the stairs.
After that, the side door was kept locked, and people were asked to go
through the rectory if they wanted to pray, make a visit to the Blessed
I deplore the actions of the government that emptied the mental
hospitals without providing a safety net ... in San Diego, approximately
70% of our homeless are mentally ill, many of them veterans. I used to
work the annual "Stand Down" in Balboa Park, which attempted to get
homeless vets' paperwork in order so they could get disability and
needed medical services.
St. Vincent de Paul Village, Catholic Charities, Episcopal Community
Services, etc. do the best they can, and they need our support, but my
original statement stands. If the churches want to tackle the homeless
problem, let them lobby local, state, and federal governments, and/or
fund homeless shelters. Allowing the homeless to camp out in/around the
church is NOT the way to deal with it.
In another post Bud added this;
This is NOT A GOOD IDEA, no matter HOW charitable it may sound.
My home parish, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Winter Haven FL was burned
to the ground by a vagrant who discarded a lit cigarette in the
baptistry, the DAY the three-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ was (finally)
completed in memory of Fr. Cyril Sturrup, the long-time rector. They
lost countless works of art, antique stained glass, 16th century Spanish
silver, irreplaceable vestments, etc. etc. etc.
They had always left the church unlocked.
Locally here in San Diego, First Presbyterian Church's four-manual
Casavant organ suffered extensive damage when a disgruntled street
person set a fire in the kitchen directly under the choir loft. The
console was destroyed; the organ suffered major water damage, and had to
be completely removed and rebuilt.
Several local churches here provide blankets, sleeping pads, food, and
porta-potties for the homeless OUTSIDE the churches in the parking lot.
We can do that ... San Diego's average temperature year-round is
something like 65-70 degrees.
But doing anything ELSE is INVITING the CHURCH'S insurance company NOT
to pay if something DOES happen.
Find a local program that distributes housing vouchers; allowing the
homeless to camp out in the church is inviting disaster.
For the record another poster at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boston posted of a very different experience.
At St. John's, our outreach to the homeless and poor is not just donations of
food, clothing and money--we bring those in need to US. It's been this way
for over 100 years. Six days per week there is at least one hot meal served in
the undercroft serving hundreds of persons per week. Folks are welcome to "drop
in" most days, and we are constantly inviting people in to use the restrooms,
etc. And, yes, we allow some folks to sleep in our doorways and gardens,
hassle-free. (For more information on our outreach ministry, see
www.stjohnsbowdoinst.org and click on "Neighborhood Action".).
So, routinely, each day I may have to step over two people in sleeping bags
to get in the office door in the morning. Even on Sundays, there may be several
people sleeping in front of the main entrance to the church until an hour
before Mass! Not only do we know the folks who sleep in our doorways, but they
are excellent stewards--they have been known to run off folks who would like to
start trouble and once, prevented a break-in! They are, in fact, more a part
of our parish life than some parishioners (and yes, the homeless are invited to
High Mass and some come regularly). I can't help but think that Jesus would
(Interestingly, this parish is located about 500 feet from the Massachsetts
State House. What irony!).
Does this mean there haven't been problems? No, of course not. Minor
irritations? Yes. Occasionally a "surprise" in the garden? Naturally. Yet, we continue
to be committed to the challenge "whatsoever you do to the least of us, you
do to Me".
Even the more positive experience at St. John's would indicate the problem is larger than the private charity available. Do you really want homeless camped out on the grounds of churches? Is that the best we as a society can afford. Can we choose to do better and if so how? With so many of the homeless Vietnam era veterans can we really say that the current state of veterans affairs is doing the job? And what are we setting ourselves up for when the Iraq veterans finally DO come home?
But first go buy that Wall Street Journal and get some history. I don't want to read anymore challenges to prove that private charity can solve all our problems.