The penny sit-up was a Victorian era term to describe one of the first homeless shelters to be created for the people of Blackfriars, in central London. It was operated by the Salvation Army during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in order to provide comfort and support to its destitute clients. What made this shelter unique was that in exchange for a penny, clients would be allowed to sit on a bench in a reasonably warm room all night long. Moreover, they were not allowed to lie down and sleep on the bench. A penny sit-up was the cheapest homeless shelter at that time. There were more expensive homeless shelters available in London, such as a "four penny coffin".
By today's standards this shelter at Blackfriars would be considered inadequate and callous toward these individuals. However, at the time this was considered a well-meaning, inexpensive, and compassionate attempt to deal with the relatively new phenomenon of homelessness. The Salvation Army believed these shelters provided relief from the harsh London winters and provided new devoted followers to the Christian faith. Others, such as Professor Howard Sercombe of the University of Strathclyde have argued that such institutions were more likely to have been designed in order to control the homeless, or at the very best - a compassionate response to the harsh "moving on" laws of the time, which made it illegal for people to remain vagrantly upon the streets.
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