Page 9


The Texas Observer NOV. 27, 1964 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c Poverty: ‘It’s All Kind of Mish-Mash’ Austin He had been, said Wilfred M. Calnan, “just swamped.” “We did not have time to do all the charts we would like. We didn’t have computers, so we had to use the old methods, by pencil and paper. It’s a very time-consuming job.” A retiring, self-depreciatory kind of man, Calnan was presenting a survey of citycounty -welfare services in Texas to the Texas State Association of City-County Welfare Departments, of which he is the outgoing president. His regular job is director of city-county welfare in Corpus Christi. “Of the 254 questionOres we sent out, 177 were returned. That leaves 87 counties to be heard from, just on this initial thing,” he said. “That’s not enough. We have to know about every county. “Sixteen of the 177 that answered said they didn’t have any welfare program at all. These counties just weren’t even recognizing that they had any responsibilities.” He passed around charts giving skimpy information about the welfare programs in the 160 counties from which the answers were received. Almost half of these-69 to be exactspent $5,000 or less on public welfare in 1963. Twenty of them spent $20,000 to $50,000. Eighty-seven of the reports said no records are kept on the welfare recipients. “A big number of the programs are under the commissioners’ court,” Calnan said-93 of the 160. He noted “the variety of ways in which programs are administered. A county judge said he had no need to keep records, because he knew everybody in the county,” which has a population of 10,000. “Now this,” said Calnan in a pained broken cadence, “is just about, as far, as we have been able, to go.” He will be sending out another questionaire, trying to get more information from those who said they would cooperate some more. He hopes the National Association of Social Workers, through its Texas council, will finance a more extensive study. “We’re going to continue this study,” he said. “You can see how much work it is and how slow it is. We might have to get somebody and give him some travel [funds] to go out and actually visit those counties. I think we’re just beginning to plumb the depths of this thing. “It’s not a terrifically enlightening report. At least you can see how much work is involved,” he said, and stopped. G. R. Coker of the Dallas County welfare program said he is just his commissioners’ administrator. “My first job as I see it is to determine what they want. I don’t think I’m there to propagandize the community to overhaul the services, and so on. “We will have to have a constitutional amendment for a statewide general assistance program,” he said, but “I think because we’re in the trough where the money is coming from, we can’t get very aggressive about this.” “I would guest every one of us is really in the same box,” Wilfred Calnan said. “We want improvement, but how do we get it f” Coker said he had worked for commissioners’ courts in many areas for many years, and “You’ve sot to know in whose The Texas Social Welfare Assn. has heretofore been one of those numerous sowhat organizations that are concerned mostly with their own members. Its members were mostly social workers, but it functioned as a professional trade organization. This has begun to change. The association now has 1,600 members, 650 of whom attended its Austin convention last week to study “the many faces of poverty.” Membership is open to “lay citizens” at $5 a year, and James Dinsmore, the executive director, says spokesmen of the association will take a more active interest in state legislation from now on. More than that, he said, “We want to be the coordinating, voluntary agency for the poverty program in Texas. We know, through Congressman [Jake] Pickle [of Austin], that more than 400 Texas cities have already applied or are ready to apply for those grants” under the federal anti-poverty legislation. This broadening of focus and responsibility was apparent in the subject of this year’s T.S.W.A. conference, and also in the surprised, self-examining new look many of the social workers seemed to be taking. pay they are. . . . Some of them are owned lock, stock, and barrel by someone in the community.” “At least you have to know who paid their filing fee,” Calnan said quickly. But G. R. Reid of the Wharton County welfare program said that if they would go to the commissioners’ courts as an association, rather than as individuals, “I’m for giving it a try.” From the back of the room, where the welfare workers were having their lunch, in the Driskill Hotel, Arthur Reardon of the El Paso welfare agency said out, with gestures conveying a painful frustration: “This is a large and complex state. We need adequate social planning and resources here. Just to gather datait’s gigantic, just for a handful of people, sending out letters. You can’t get the picture what is working, what isn’t working. It’s all kind of mish-mash.” The opening night speaker gave the kind of inspirational talk on welfare work among the poor that one would ordinarily expect to hear, in a different kind of language, at a liberal political meeting. The conference itselffrom the introductory theme through forums on different aspects of poverty to a starkly critical conclusionbore the imprint of the new slogan that has become part of the national political life, “The War on Poverty.” The “dean” of the conference was David M. Austin, lecturer in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. His first speech was a somewhat didactic, social scientist’s discussion of poverty. It is caused, he said, by economic depression in a geographical area; racial and cultural discrimination; individual behavior problems, such as drunkenness, criminal deeds, and lack of work discipline; ill health ; and lack of education. The children of the poor are likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps. The goal of an attack on poverty, he The Texas Conference