The abolition of public outdoor relief in New York City, except in medicines to the sick, an annual cash disbursement to the blind, and the distribution of free coal in the winter, occurred on December 20, 1875, by adoption by the commissioners of charities and correction of a resolution that the experiment be made of giving the necessities of life to the outdoor poor instead of money or orders on grocery stores. A week later it was resolved to visit all applicants for relief within forty-eight hours after application, and it was officially announced that the department disclaimed all intention of aiding the unworthy poor. Again, on January 10, 1876, it was pro posed to visit all applicants for coal. From this time forward the department gave coal only, the previous ap propriations for general relief having been reduced by the board of estimate and apportionment.
It is a curious view that the necessities of life consist wholly of coal and do not include food, shelter, or clothing. It is also interesting that one of the three commissioners in office at the time this action was taken, after twenty years, although still employed in the Department of Pub lic Charities, and at the time in a prominent position, was entirely unable to recollect the circumstances under which the change was made, asserting when questioned on the subject that it must have been made by the " reform admin istration " of 1873 ; nor has the writer been able to find other persons who recall any particular agitation of the subject at the date when this action was taken. No op position seems to have developed, and during the quarter of a century in which the city has distributed no kind of outdoor relief except coal and the pension to the blind, there has been, so far as can be ascertained, no desire on the part of the officials of the Department of Charities to go back to the early system ; while doubts have frequently been expressed both by " reformers " and by "politicians" as to whether the distribution of coal was of any special value. This anomaly was ended by the charter of 1897 which created the Greater New York by the consolidation of Brooklyn and other municipalities with the old city of New York. Under the charter public outdoor relief is prohibited except that to the blind.
Brooklyn. — The steps by which public outdoor relief was discontinued in Brooklyn are of special interest, since, in what was then the city and is now the borough, the change was more complete, the distribution of fuel being discontinued at the same time. The statistics of outdoor relief for Brooklyn show, from the years 1872 to 1877 inclusive, an increase of over 100 per cent in the number of beneficiaries annually receiving help. The average ex
penditure by the city per year for these six years was $114,943.72, which includes the cost of administering the relief, this expense amounting to 40 per cent of the total. An average of 39,109 persons were relieved each year. These facts became, in the year 1876, a matter of public comment and aroused general criticism of the existing sys tem. The officers of relief themselves agreed that the system in its form at that time was pernicious, and that • the only way of preventing a further increase in the num ber of pauper claimants on the city was the establishment of a system of thorough visitation. Such a system by paid officials had been in partial operation previous to this time, but had been abolished because of unsatisfactory results. At the time under discussion the poor were required merely to come to the office of the commissioners and affirm under oath that they needed the relief for which they applied.
At the instigation of the State Charities Aid Associa tion a meeting was called in May, 1876, for the purpose of inaugurating a movement for volunteer visitation by pri vate citizens of all applicants for public relief during the ensuing winter. As a result of this meeting an organi zation was formed for the purpose of thus assisting the commissioners of charities. When this association was in position to offer its services, the attention of the com missioners of charities was officially called to its existence and an offer was made to visit all applicants for relief during the winter of 1876-1877. The commissioners did not seem to appreciate the offer, and for a time threw serious obstacles in the way of the execution of the plan. Finally, under pressure of public opinion, they accepted the offer and a visitation committee of between two hundred and three hundred visitors was set at the work of investigation.
The results of these investigations convinced the visitors that many of the families applying for relief were doing it habitually from year to year, not because of actual need, but because their neighbors were receiving help, and be cause they considered it their right. As a result of a dis cussion held at the end of this winter resolutions were passed expressing disapproval of the existing system and suggesting to the commissioners that outdoor relief be abolished, by stages if necessary, but entirely within a year or two. It was recommended that for the winter of 1877 1878 the poor be relieved with coal only, and that at the end of this year even that could be discontinued.