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MUNICIPAL LODGING HOUSE.
113 and 115 Market street, Syracuse, N. Y.
The Municipal Lodging House of Syracuse remains in the same building in which it was first established. At the last inspection the difficulty of exit in case of fire was noted. During the interval since that inspection the arrangement of dormitories has not been altered for the better; on the contrary, two cells have been placed upon the second floor. These are intended for the confinement of persons suspected of insanity. They are furnished with bedding, and the doors are strongly barred.
The lavatory is not such as should be provided for an institution of this kind, nor are the baths of the best character. There is no method for sterilizing clothing, the laundry is rather primitive, and the roller towels in use may spread disease.
One serious defect in the equipment of the building is the provision made for homeless females. As has been said heretofore, it is not wise to have men and women kept in the same building. During the past year the number of night lodgings was 6,724. Many of these lodgings were furnished to women, so that there is evidently a necessity that provision be made for them, but it is not advisable to gather these dependents under one roof with men. Some more suitable arrangement should be made for the care of homeless women.
As was stated last year, the fire danger is greater for the women than for the men, owing to the fact that the rooms assigned to them are more secluded and separated by locked doors from the only stairway as well as the apartments of the The building has no fire-escapes, and in case of a fire in the building, unless the fire department were quick in the work of rescue, many of the inmates, especially the women, would be burned. Fortunately the fire department is located within a short distance of the building. This does not lessen the responsibility for making ample provision for safety.
The custody of the insane in cells is not the proper work of a municipal lodging house. If the city desires to establish a place for the temporary detention of those suspected of insanity, a pavilion should be erected in connection with some hospital,
and certainly the care of the insane ought not to be made any part of the work of a home of this character. It were better to confine the cases of suspected insanity in the city hall itself, under the observation of police surgeons, than to associate them with the homeless men and women who depend upon the Municipal Lodging House for shelter. It is very doubtful if there be any legal warrant for making the Municipal Lodging House a place of detention for the insane, and, in fact, the association of the poor and the insane is in direct contravention of the spirit of our charity laws.
The furnishing of the Municipal Lodging House is well worn and requires renovation. The beds and tables need repairs, while the bedding should have mending.
The total expense for the maintenance of this institution for one year was $6,066.48. This money paid for rent, salaries, groceries, coal, light and other supplies. The county of Onondaga paid $621.75 for meals and lodging furnished to non-resi dents, and there was a further bill of $376.35 pending against the county.
Nine hundred and forty-six persons gave one hour's work each for the single meal they received from the lodging house. This, added to the work for night lodgings and meals, gave a total of 27,843 hours' work on the streets of the city of Syracuse. At the regular pay for eight hours' work per day, which is the time worked by city laborers, the labor of the lodgers amounted to $5,220.36, making the net expense to the city for the maintenance of the lodging house $846.12, provided the lodging house does not exact double pay from the county, that is, labor from the men and money from the county for the entertainment of nonresidents. The city can well afford to pay $846.12 for the care of this class of temporary dependents.
The number of homeless men and women requiring shelter during the month of July, when the demand was lightest, was 252. The largest number in any one month was in December, when 848 persons applied for food and lodging; beside these, 49 persons in the same month applied for meals. From October to April the number did not fall below 600 persons per month, lodged and fed.
The question arises, "Does an institution of this kind have a tendency to attract to Syracuse, tramps and other disreputable characters for the sake of the shelter it gives?" Doubtless, were there no restrictions upon the entertainment, Syracuse would become the mecca of the tramps of the State, but the fact that work is exacted in return for entertainment deters very many from making application for help. Then, too, the limited time during which shelter is given to any one ought to weed out those who would otherwise remain in the lodging house.
One feature of this work is that which pertains to an employ. ment agency. The superintendent reports that he found employment for 982 persons during one year, and such a result is highly gratifying, provided the employment was not of such a temporary character as to have no real value. It is hardly desirable to have the Municipal Lodging House become a employment agency, and yet this work should not be discredited.
The Municipal Lodging House is still an experiment. There is all probability that it will prove, as elsewhere, most successful, if it can be continued a charity and be managed strictly upon business principles. The danger to these institutions is that they are likely to fall into the control of politicians and become agencies for colonizing voters.
Since the last inspection of this institution, the popular will, as expressed by ballot, has decreed that the management of the municipal affairs of Syracuse shall pass into new hands. The political control of the city institutions was involved in the elec tion, and some of the papers of Syracuse have published articles intimating that as a measure of economy it may be desirable to discontinue the Municipal Lodging House. Such discontinuance and consequent return to old methods of temporary relief for homeless men and women would be a step backward. Enlightened philanthropy has no patience with methods of relief which are vicious, nor with such provision for the homeless as is destructive to self-respect.
The Municipal Lodging House of the city of Syracuse has been in the experimental stage, as has been said, but during the time it has been in service it has demonstrated the possibility of great usefulness. Such an institution, properly managed, will
serve as the nexus between the worthy unemployed homeless workman and the opportunity by which he may improve his condition. In order to guard against the possibility of abuse it is not necessary to destroy an institution. Better prevent the possibility of abuse by careful regulation, systematic inspection, and competent management.
The chief difficulty the Municipal Lodging House has heretofore experienced has been due to the fact that its location does not give it the accommodation which its opportunity for usefulness demands. If it were located in a detached building, well located, and were equipped with the necessary conveniences, the Municipal Lodging House could accomplish a great work for the city of Syracuse. It is hoped that the new administration, taking advantage of the experience of other municipalities, will make arrangements for the equipment of this institution so that it may creditably represent the philanthropy of the city of Syracuse.
It is interesting to know what Theodore Roosevelt had to say in this connection after serving as one of the four police commissioners of the city of New York during the years of 1895 and 1896. It will be remembered that he was appointed at that time by Mayor Strong, who in turn received his election as the result of a fusion movement, which succeeded in overthrowing the former administration. In September, 1897, a paper from Theodore Roosevelt appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in relation to the many reforms enacted by the police commissioners during his two years of office. In describing the reforms put into effect, among other things he says:
"One important bit of reform was, abolishing the tramp lodging houses which had originally been started in the police station in a spirit of unwise philanthropy. These tramp lodging houses, not being properly supervised, were mere nurseries for pauperism and crime, tramps and loafers of every shade thronging to the city every winter to enjoy their benefits. We abolished them, a municipal lodging house being substituted.
"Here all homeless wanderers were received, forced to bathe, given night clothes before going to bed and made to work next
morning, and in addition were so closely supervised that habitual tramps and vagrants were speedily detected and apprehended."
The effects of this reform might justify us in the belief that the benefits obtained for New York might in an equal degree be of gain to us if carried on the same lines here.
If the existence of a municipal lodging house be accepted as a necessary means of providing for a certain element to be found in this and every other community, and if experience has demonstrated that its economical management has fallen far short of the ideal, may it not be pertinent to ask, Shall not a more economical management be had rather than the whole structure be destroyed?
A remedy can be applied to strengthen those parts showing the greatest weakness, and by so doing further build up the healthier parts, saving the whole in some such manner as the following:
Let there be a commission formed which shall be known as the Syracuse Municipal Lodging House Commission, which shall have entire supervision of the municipal lodging house, and whose members shall receive their appointment from the mayor, who shall also be of the number as an ex officio member. The qualifications should be good citizenship, together with the pos session of such experience as will best fit them to intelligently administer such an institution. They should serve without compensation and be drawn largely, if not altogether, from the ranks of the various charity organizations of the city.
We may perhaps in this manner reach a more perfect administrative condition, and certainly by this means divorce the lodging house from politics, if merit alone be made the standard. The commission as far as is possible should be of such composition as to embrace all creeds. These conditions, I believe, would be acceptable to the taxpayer, who would recognize it as a long way in the right direction.
D. MCCARTHY, Commissioner, Fifth Judicial District.