Mr. Francis O’Neil, General Superintendent of Police, Chicago, speaking of the tramp, says: “Despite the most stringent police regulations, a great city will have a certain number of homeless vagrants to shelter through the winter.” “Despite,”–mark the word, a confession of organized helplessness as against unorganized necessity. If police regulations are stringent and yet fail, then that which makes them fail, namely, the tramp, must have still more stringent reasons for succeeding. This being so, it should be of interest to inquire into these reasons, to attempt to discover why the nameless and homeless vagrant sets at naught the right arm of the corporate power of our great cities, why all that is weak and worthless is stronger than all that is strong and of value.
Mr. O’Neil is a man of wide experience on the subject of tramps. He may be called a specialist. As he says of himself: “As an old-time desk sergeant and police captain, I have had almost unlimited opportunity to study and analyze this class of floating population, which seeks the city in winter and scatters abroad through the country in the spring.” He then continues: “This experience reiterated the lesson that the vast majority of these wanderers are of the class with whom a life of vagrancy is a chosen means of living without work.” Not only is it to be inferred from this that there is a large class in society which lives without work, for Mr. O’Neil’s testimony further shows that this class is forced to live without work.
He says: “I have been astonished at the multitude of those who have unfortunately engaged in occupations which practically force them to become loafers for at least a third of the year. And it is from this class that the tramps are largely recruited. I recall a certain winter when it seemed to me that a large portion of the inhabitants of Chicago belonged to this army of unfortunates. I was stationed at a police station not far from where an ice harvest was ready for the cutters. The ice company advertised for helpers, and the very night this call appeared in the newspapers our station was packed with homeless men, who asked shelter in order to be at hand for the morning’s work. Every foot of floor space was given over to these lodgers and scores were still unaccommodated.”
And again: “And it must be confessed that the man who is willing to do honest labor for food and shelter is a rare specimen in this vast army of shabby and tattered wanderers who seek the warmth of the city with the coming of the first snow.” Taking into consideration the crowd of honest laborers that swamped Mr. O’Neil’s station-house on the way to the ice-cutting, it is patent, if all tramps were looking for honest labor instead of a small minority, that the honest laborers would have a far harder task finding something honest to do for food and shelter. If the opinion of the honest laborers who swamped Mr. O’Neil’s station-house were asked, one could rest confident that each and every man would express a preference for fewer honest laborers on the morrow when he asked the ice foreman for a job.
And, finally, Mr. O’Neil says: “The humane and generous treatment which this city has accorded the great army of homeless unfortunates has made it the victim of wholesale imposition, and this well- intended policy of kindness has resulted in making Chicago the winter Mecca of a vast and undesirable floating population.” That is to say, because of her kindness, Chicago had more than her fair share of tramps; because she was humane and generous she suffered whole-sale imposition. From this we must conclude that it does not do to be HUMANE and GENEROUS to our fellow-men–when they are tramps. Mr. O’Neil is right, and that this is no sophism it is the intention of this article, among other things, to show.