A look at Belleville's homeless issue -- in 1914

News-DemocratMarch 27, 2014 

Lest we think homelessness is a new problem, a look back at the January 1914 issues of the Belleville Daily Advocate shows that authorities have always had to face the problem.

The Advocate reported on the police activities in taking care of people who slept in cells at the police station specifically reserved for the homeless.

"The police department cared for 126 homeless persons during the month of December (1913), according to the records of the police department. This was an average of about four a night and establishes a new record, the largest number having been cared for by the department in any one month before for several years being 118. The department made 51 arrests during the month."

There were some accounts in the paper of people who specifically came asking to stay in jail.

"Albert Fuller, aged 73 years, appeared at the Central police station Thursday night and asked to be sent to jail for 90 days. Fuller said he is a veteran of the civil war and that he had fought for the union in the navy during the late unpleasantness.

Friday morning Fuller was taken before Justice Wangelin, where he pleaded guilty to a charge of vagrancy and was sent to the workhouse for three months.

"I want a place where I can sleep and be sure of enough to eat to keep me alive," said Fuller to Chief Stookey. "When spring opens I will try and get in the home for naval veterans of the war and then I'll be fixed for the rest of my days."

The paper also noted that "Ed Hack, who says he is a wood chopper from Madison County, will spend three months in a place where he is sure of three meals a day and a place to sleep at night. At Hack's request he was sent to the workhouse for 90 days by Magistrate Underwood.

"Hack is 65 years old and spent Monday night in the homeless cells of the police station."

Then there were people, like this man from Mount Vernon, who were willing to work but couldn't find jobs.

"Albert Weaver, 50 years old, surrounded by his family of six boys, arrived in Belleville Thursday morning, looking for work. Weaver and his six children, who were shaking in the cold, frosty air of early morning, were found on the public square by Sergeant Arbogast and taken by him to the Central Police station."

The newspaper also told of authorities having to deal with abandoned children, although a couple of kids who claimed to have been abandoned actually had escaped from a childrens' home and were returned.

Even back then, police found sometimes it was easier to ship out your problems than to keep them.

"When Frank Holli, who wears a peg leg, was released from the county jail Thursday, he was out of funds and decided to work on the sympathy of the theater crowds as a measure of raising the necessary funds to transport him to East St. Louis.

"Holli pegged his way down to the Washington theater, unstrapped his wooden leg, propped it against a lamp post and sat down beside it. He took his hat then and was preparing to hold it out for a few sheckels, when Patrolman Peters swooped down upon him, ordered him to strap on his leg and go to central station with him.

"Chief of Police Stookey listened to Holli's story and concluded it would be cheaper to give him enough money to get to East St. Louis with than to send him to jail. The chief gave him car fare to get out of town and Holli pegged his way to a street car and shook the dust of the city from his one good foot."

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series of occasional columns that will appear on Belleville's history in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

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