The reader may have noted as he drove along the Embankment or other London thoroughfares at night in winter, long queues of people waiting their turn to get something. What they are waiting for is a cup of soup and, perhaps, an opportunity of sheltering till the dawn, which soup and shelter are supplied by the Salvation Army, and sometimes by other charitable Organizations. I asked whether this provision of gratis food did in fact pauperize the population, as has been alleged. The Staff-Captain answered that men do not as a rule stop out in the middle of the winter till past midnight to get a pint of soup and a piece of bread. Of course, there might be exceptions; but for the most part those who take this charity, do so because if is sorely needed.
The cost of these midnight meals is reckoned by the Salvation Army at about L8 per 1,000, including the labour involved in cooking and distribution. This money is paid from the Army’s Central Fund, which collects subscriptions for that special purpose.
‘Of course, our midnight soup has its critics,’ said one of the Officers who has charge of its distribution; ’but all I know is that it saves many from jumping into the river.’
During the past winter, that is from November 3, 1909, to March 24, 1910, 163,101 persons received free accommodation and food at the hands of the Salvation Army in connexion with its Embankment Soup Distribution Charity.
On a Sunday in June I attended the Free Breakfast service at the Blackfriars Shelter. The lease of this building was acquired by the Salvation Army from a Temperance Company. Behind it lay contractors’ stables, which were also bought; after which the premises were rebuilt and altered to suit the purposes to which they are now put, the stabling being for the most part converted into sleeping-rooms.
The Officer who accompanied me, Lieut.-Colonel Jolliffe, explained that this Blackfriars Shelter is, as it were, the dredger for and the feeder of all the Salvation Army’s Social Institutions for men in London. Indeed, it may be likened to a dragnet set to catch male unfortunates in this part of the Metropolis. Here, as in the other Army Shelters, are great numbers of bunks that are hired out at 3d. a night, and the usual food-kitchens and appliances.
I visited one or two of these, well-ventilated places that in cold weather are warmed by means of hot-water pipes to a heat of about 70 deg., as the clothing on the bunks is light.
I observed that although the rooms had only been vacated for a few hours, they were perfectly inoffensive, and even sweet; a result that is obtained by a very strict attention to cleanliness and ample ventilation. The floors of these places are constantly scrubbed, and the bunks undergo a process of disinfection about once a week. As a consequence, in all the Army Shelters the vermin which sometimes trouble common lodging-houses are almost unknown.