A workhouse is a publicly maintained facility for the support and housing of the poor. They were common in Great Britain in the time of the Poor Laws and also in the United States in the nineteenth century. The Poor Laws first assigned the care of the poor to church parishes, and later organized the parishes into Unions who became responsible for running the poorhouses.
While the effort was intended to provide support to those in need, and to prevent those capable of taking care of themselves from abusing the system, in fact it produced new problems. When the workhouses were under strict control, made to be unattractive so that only those truly in need would apply for a place, the conditions became so bad the inmates were treated no better than prisoners. Although some directors and staff were well-meaning, often they were ill-qualified and incompetent, with the result that the inmates suffered greatly. This is typical of efforts in human society to improve conditions for a sector of society—the selfish nature of people involved leads to abuse of the system, and thus to more suffering. Nevertheless, such well-intentioned efforts eventually bear fruit, especially when reformers note the problems inherent in the system.
By the mid-twentieth century, with the development of a comprehensive system of social services and the welfare state in the United Kingdom, and the Social Security Act in 1935 in the United States, workhouses no longer existed; the institutions that remained specialized in the care of each group separately, including accommodations such as shelters specifically for the homeless.
However, the problems of poverty and homelessness have not been solved yet. It takes more than a state-funded program to help people, it takes the love and care of of people who can embrace them as part of their family. Without loving and harmonious families, the "school of love," people are lonely and unable to cope with the stress of living in society. While the poorhouse was evidence of the growing concern of people toward those less fortunate than themselves, the progress was only a few steps. Several more are needed to bring all people out of poverty and into the embrace of a harmonious, prosperous society.