The Simon Community's first annual general meeting last Saturday after 15 years — resulting from a change in the constitution — turned out a bit like a wedding without a bride, or perhaps a bridegroom, since the missing component was a man without whom the corn
.munity is barely recognisable.
That man is Anton WallichClifford, the founder and leader of Simon, who two weeks ago was rushed into hospital suffering, it was diagnosed, from disseminated tuberculosis.
To many people, Simon is Anton. Officially, of course, it is not. As the Articles of Associa
tion drawn up last year, when the community became an independent self-governing charity, have it: "The Simon Community is a community of the caring and cared-with freely living and working together co-equally • .. it is a venture in care, idealistic in concept, realistic in practice it is the Mission of Caring on SkidrOw committed to caring and campaigning for and with the homeless and rootless and all of no fixed abode."
Be that as it may, the fact is that the community sprang from Anton's inspiration and now, 15 years later, still relies enormously on him. Happily for all concerned, the doctors say that he will soon be able to return, fully fit — news which provoked one of the workers to remark affectionately: "He'll be back soon — and he'll still be the ruddy same as ever!"
Throughout his life (he'll be 55 next month), Anton WallichClifford has been driven by some kind of vocation. Before going off to serve in the RAF in the war. he trained as a priest and on his return he became first a youth worker and later entered the probation service.
It was when he went to Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London that he began to realise the inadequacy of the provisions for the homeless. A probation officer by day, he became a "dosser" by night, learning what life was like on the fringes and gradually becoming accepted as part and parcel of the twilight world of forgotten men and women.
He learned then that in the Britain of Macmillan's "You've never had it so good" there were thousands who escaped the Welfare State net — thousands who in society's terms were "inadequate" and who were unable or unwilling to find their way through the maze of social security technicalities Out of that experience came. in 1963, the Simon Community dedicated to providing a home where people would be accepted just as they were — a home where they could feel at ease without the normal pressures to conform.
For some the community acts as a temporary resting place, somewhere to stop and lick their wounds before going back into the cruel world. For others it is a stepping stone from breakdown to more or less complete recovery.
But whatever the results or the chances of rehabilitation, the keynote of Anton's concern and Simon's operation lies in according to all men and women the dignity and respect which their humanity demands.
From the helpers, that calls for tolerance to the point of exhaustion and commitment to the point of obsession. Those who know him hest describe Anton as a man of seemingly boundless energy and extraordinary will-power. The problem for the Simon Community is in finding others to match him.
Recently it has had to put a
stop to all !less intake because of chronic staff shortages. Throughout its 15 years there has been a continual flowof helpers — mainly young — in and out of the community houses. Their contribution has been and is invaluable: but it is not enough.
As someone whose deep commitment to the homeless springs from his commitment to the Gospel Message of practical, realistic love, it is to the Church that Anton looks for long-term support, and for people willing to invest their lives in this kind of work.
Who will go with him into the next 15 years'?