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Sirico Parables book

Does a program try to build character in recipients?

Charities a century ago realized that two persons in exactly the same material circumstances, but with different values, need different treatment: One might benefit most from some material help and a pat on the back, the other might need spiritual challenge and a push. Those who were orphaned, elderly, or disabled received aid; jobless adults who were "able and willing to work" received help in job-finding; "those who prefer to live on alms" and those of "confirmed intemperance" were not entitled to material assistance.

"Work tests" helped both in sorting and in providing relief with dignity. When an able-bodied man came to a homeless shelter, he often was asked to chop wood for two hours or to whitewash a building; in that way he could provide part of his own support and also help those unable to chop. A needy woman generally was given a seat in the "sewing room" (often near a child care room) and asked to work on garments that would be donated to the helpless poor or sent through the Red Cross to families suffering from the effects of hurricanes or tornadoes. The work test, along with teaching good habits and keeping away those who did not really need help, also enabled charities to teach the lesson that those who were being helped could help others.

Today, don't we need to stop talking about "the poor" in abstraction and start distinguishing once again between those who truly yearn for help and those who just want an enabler? Programs have the chance to succeed only when categories are established and firmly maintained so that character is built in recipients of aid. Work tests can help: Why shouldn't some homeless men clean up streets and parks and remove graffiti? Now, as thousands of crack babies born addicted to cocaine and often deserted by mothers who care only for the next high, languish in hospitals under bright lights and with almost no human contact, why shouldn't homeless women (some are psychotic or sick, but others are healthy and gentle) be assigned to hold a baby for an hour in exchange for food and shelter?