The Salvation Army in America is hardly short of a dollar or two. This from the Tampa Bay Times in 2011:
Few donors realize the Salvation Army owns a $12 million Florida headquarters in Lutz, a $3 million office complex in New Port Richey and dozens of homes in the Tampa Bay area — all part of a largely tax-exempt local real estate portfolio worth about $75 million.
Officers, who are ordained clergy, live rent-free in the homes, including some that cost as much as $300,000. The organization provides them with cars, health insurance, furniture and Internet service. Its even pays the homeowners’ association dues.
While most of its wealth is derived from the donations, it’s reported this week by The Influence that the SA also profits greatly from programmes run by its Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARC) that require people to undergo “work therapy” – doing shitty jobs without pay.
According to Kenneth Anderson:
In exchange for three hots and a cot, the Salvation Army’s rehab clients are expected to labor for 40 hours a week, without pay, for the profit of the Salvation Army stores.
These clients, he writes, are often “unconstitutionally” sentenced to religious programmes run by organisations such as the SA and Alcoholics Anonymous.
There are 119 ARC rehabs in the US, operating from coast to coast; an estimated 150,000 people go through this programme each year. An average of 7,700 people live in the Salvation Army’s US rehabs at any given time. Most clients are either homeless or court-ordered. The basic programme lasts from six to 12 months, depending on the client.
Should they decide to leave the programme, their only options are often to go to prison (if they are court-ordered) or to return to living on the streets.
According to Don Coombs, Programme Director of the SA’s Adult Rehabilitation Center Command, Eastern Territory:
Work is used as a therapy to assist persons in learning how to be of service to GOD and others … [clients] receive no financial wage or other compensation.
The work, says Anderson:
Consists of some pretty tedious and foul jobs, such as sorting through donations of clothing and other items to be sold in Salvation Army stores (such donations are often tainted with feces or vomit), and bailing up unsalable items for shipment overseas. Other forms of ‘work therapy’ may involve moving furniture or janitorial work, including cleaning toilets.
Clients are typically housed four to 20 persons per room. In addition to “work therapy”, other therapy consists of mandatory Bible study and mandatory participation in Salvation Army worship services.
This SA website puts a more positive spin on things:
When you shop at one of our Family Stores, the men and women participating in the ARC program are directly affected. They are provided with a clean and healthy living environment, good food, work therapy, leisure time activities, group and individual counseling, spiritual direction, and numerous resources to help them develop life skills and a personal relationship with God.
According to Coombs:
The ARC provides individual counseling for both spiritual and character formation. We also provide both education and group services as well. Clinical services for mental health and/or chemical dependency most likely are referred to local agencies.
The Salvation Army is currently the second largest charity in the United States, with an annual income of $4.1 billion from donations, investments, sales and other sources.
With this kind of budget, the Salvation Army could surely do better than sleeping 20 people to a room, using them as slave labor, and achieving a completion rate of 17 percent. Instead, they could be offering decent housing, decent wages, and the best evidence-based treatment, which includes, for example, a non-abstinence-based housing model.
It seems clear that the Salvation Army, despising people who use any drugs, believes that such people simply deserve the kind of ‘treatment’ offered by ARC. Certainly, no expense seems to be spared when it comes to PR and self-promotion.
Although in its financial statement the Salvation Army claims that 21 percent of its expenditure, $702,539,000, is spent on ‘rehabilitation’, there is little evidence that this money is spent on the clients. Looking at the fact that average occupancy of the programme is 7,700 clients, this would work out to over $90,000 per client year. It surely seems that clients are not receiving $90,000-a-year’s worth of services; on the contrary, the Salvation Army is receiving tens of thousands of dollars of free labor per client year.
And he asked:
Where does all the money go? With ads for the Salvation Army everywhere, it is clear that a good chunk is spent on self-promotion.
However, since the Salvation Army is legally a church, it can also give its officers free housing, free vehicles, free health insurance, free furniture, and practically free everything else, in addition to paying them a salary.
The Salvation Army seems to be an organization primarily dedicated to ‘doing the most good’ for itself. When it comes to people who use drugs, a more fitting motto would be ‘doing the most harm’.
An America where people are forced to labor without compensation under threat of prison is not an America that I can support. Everyone should have the right to decide what to put into their own body, and people who use drugs should not be imprisoned or exploited by the self-righteous.
There are many organizations other than the Salvation Army which will take your donations of items and actually put them to good use—such as Housing Works, which provides housing for people living with AIDS, or Goodwill, which connects people with paying jobs.
Or, do what I do. Give money directly to the panhandler and cut out the middle man. Perhaps they will spend it on alcohol or other drugs, but at least that way it might provide someone a modicum of pleasure, which beats forced labor every time.