Homelessness: Past & Present

January 07, 1996

Some are simply down on their luck and others for a myriad of reasons either cannot work or will not work and wind up on the streets.

Today, we call them the homeless but not that long ago, before the birth of political correctness, they were simply "bums," "tramps," "hoboes," and "derelicts."

In 1923, The Sun sent four reporters, masquerading as "bums," to attend Sunday services at four of the most prosperous churches in Baltimore. Their mission, as explained in an editorial, was to "ascertain how far Christian principles are applied in wealthy congregations when forbidding specimens of humanity come to worship with them."

The editorial concluded that the churches "stood the test well." But one reader countered with a letter to the editor saying the goodwill that greeted the "bums" inside the churches quickly disappeared when they walked out the door. The "bums" got no offers of food or shelter from the churchgoers, the writer pointed out.

An abridged version of the 1923 article appears today. It is accompanied by a piece by reporter Will Englund, who paints a bleak picture of recent visits to two Baltimore homeless shelters. Countless dollars have been spent to eradicate homelessness during 73 years since the first story was written, but the problem persists. And our treatment of the homeless still remains as a barometer to measure our society's compassion for the less fortunate.

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