By Bob Docter
The Salvation Army has always been concerned about the indigent, the forgotten, the destitute and the impoverished of society. In seeking to provide aid, the Army discovered the contribution of addictive substances to the problems of the poor.
This conclusion, that addictive substances contribute significantly to poverty and thus to sin, began the process of recognizing that the Army needed to develop some basic notion on how to help addicts achieve sobriety. Perhaps, this was in William Booth’s mind when he described poverty as “the devil’s weapon.”
In 1889, then U.S. Commander Ballington Booth opened the Lighthouse, a men’s shelter in Greenwich Village that provided a washroom, sleeping space and a small restaurant. Amenities were reasonable. A bed cost seven cents a night and a meal cost a penny and a nickel. Men who could not pay were expected to work, either chopping wood or cleaning the shelter.
The notion that penniless clients could work to gain entrance was, perhaps, the beginning of the extremely valuable concept of work therapy that links availability of treatment and service to human dignity.
By 1895, the social work ministry was in its infancy. The timely appointment of Booth-Tucker, the General’s son-in-law, who followed Ballington as commander, brought an organizational genius to leadership. The social work of the Army desperately needed organizing.
According to E. H. McKinley in Somebody’s Brother, “Booth-Tucker appointed a national social work leader, organized fundraising efforts, announced a rapid expansion of rescue homes, food depots, halfway houses for released prisoners, homes for waifs and strays, workshops and labor bureaus—along with a careful system of self-support.”
Outside funds, however, were indispensable and needed to be raised. In one meeting designed for that purpose a new social work motto was developed and displayed on a large sign: “OUR MOTTO – SOUP, SOAP, AND SALVATION.”
In 1891, in San Francisco, a steamship captain and serious alcoholic named Joseph McFee stumbled into The Salvation Army No. 2 “Dive” Corps on the Barbary Coast and became soundly converted. Within five months he was a Salvation Army officer beginning the work of the Lifeboat Corps in that city.
McKinley wrote that the Lifeboat provided “a range of opportunities of historic proportion…inventive enterprises which should qualify him [McFee] as the American pioneer in developing the classic Army formula for work-therapy: waste materials employed by waste labor in honest useful production.”
By 1897, McFee was running the entire social program of Greater New York.
The social work motto remains the same. Today, however, the social work programs of the Army here in the United States have broadened dramatically in service to humanity.
In the field of addictions, each of the four Army territories has between 25-30 Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARC ) spread across their jurisdiction. Some are large and some small. Some serve women as well. All operate a similar but not identical program that has proven highly successful. They are all residential programs that require a minimum of six months in residence for completion. Clients are called “ beneficiaries,” for the entire program is cost free.
A generalized goal is to teach by living an altogether new lifestyle. This doesn’t happen in 30 days. Changing patterns of living physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually takes time.
While all ARC programs require six months in residence, the programs seek to establish long-term relationships with clients through ongoing connection with some church chosen by the client. The Army has also initiated a program to link the ARC more closely to corps in order to provide clients with an awareness of a local worship service and church home available to them.
The Army recognizes that development of personal, individual spirituality is fundamental to long-term recovery in which the individual changes a way of “being” from the inside out.
The 12 Step Program is an important contributor to the recovery process. The Army perceives it as the plan of salvation, as the individual understands the nature of a “Higher Power” and defines it clearly.
Work therapy is still an important aspect of the deeply spiritual and also very professional program, offered at no cost to the applicant. Financial support comes from donated material that is processed in the warehouse by the clients engaged in work therapy. The product is then sold through Salvation Army thrift stores. No other funding is involved.
Beneficiaries today are much younger than in the past, with an average age between 25-35, most of whom arrive following court orders, warrants or other significant problems due to an addiction. Regardless of the individual’s past, The Salvation Army ARC works to ensure a healthy and successful future.
It’s still, “soup, soap, and salvation.”