Monday, February 1, 2010
HOW IT BEGAN......
In the middle of the 1800’s, New York City was awash with immigrants from European countries. From 1840-1860, 4 million people entered the city through Ellis Island and amazingly, most of them stayed. With barriers related to language, transportation and income, new arrivals were soon confronted with the reality of their new life. The Land of Milk and Honey with Streets Paved in Gold was in fact, a crude existence plagued with overcrowding, a shortage of jobs, unsanitary living conditions, and difficult - often heartwrenching - decisions.
With no social programs available (no food stamps, workman’s compensation, unemployment, welfare, etc.) families were left to their own devices. If a father was hurt on the job and left unable to work, there would always be another immigrant ready to take his place. Often, with a lack of resources and a growing number of children to try and care for, parents were forced to make the difficult choice of sending their older children (ages 8 and up) out on the streets to fend for themselves.
Commonly known as “street arabs” “waifs” or “street urchins”, these children would often band together in small groups for protection and friendship. Selling newspapers, shining shoes, or begging a few coins was their only means of support. By 1853 it is estimated that 30,000 children were living on the streets of New York City. This growing problem was soon to be addressed by two people: Reverend Charles Loring Brace of Connecticut, and Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbons of the Sisters of Charity. Both Rev. Brace and Sister Irene felt called by God to help the thousands of children who not only struggled to eek out their existence, but also posed a growing threat to the crime problem in the city.
More to come…..