It is said that there are 100,000 homeless in Britain today, but even if the figure were less than this, it is alarming to say the least.
This, in a nation which prides itself on fair play, on social justice and concern for the underdog, is nothing if not hypocritical, and must involve us all in an indictment of apathy, unconcern arld lack of consideration.
It is against the higher law of humanity. against the social ethics of the New Testament, and invests in our society a responsibility and a fault which all must share. But what is the Christian community doing, what should it be doing, to see that this is no longer, as it appears, the accepted thing?
Today people are being rejected because of their emotional, physical, social and/or moral shortcomings by parents, foster-parents, relatives, friends and social agencies, and arrive at being homeless via community schools, borstals, prisons and hospitals — though not all. Some were once successful and respectable, and their only crime is that they are homeless or without a job.
About 20,000 ex-offenders are discharged each year with no accommodation, with nowhere to go to, and at least one-third of the total homeless have also had psychiatric treatment. As a worker in this field I, for one, am amazed at the particularly large number of single homeless who are Catholics, as well as the sad lack of constructive and meaningful help from the Church.
Look in any list of hostels for homeless men and you will see just how few there are, and how little is being done by Catholic bodies in this field of activity. Perhaps this is, as I believe it to be, because of the lack of cash because there is a poor response from Catholics themselves.
The Catholic Prisoners Aid Society has a hostel in London and has some social workers with families. The Society of St. Dismas has two small hostels in Southampton, while the S.V.P. has a handful of hostels for homeless men scattered throughout the country.
This would appear to be the total Catholic contribution, and is doing little more than scratching at the tip o what is a very big problem. The groups at present working in this field would like to expand but are unable to do so because Catholics do not support their efforts. So many people are forced into vagrancy, forced to live rough, -sleep in the open, survive as best they can, because they are rejected by their neighbours.
It would be easy enough to accuse people of being mean, of lacking Christian charity. Some may be, but the effort must first come from the organised Church — the bishops and the clergy. The all-important commandment of Love is pushed into the background, and church-going would appear to be far more important than helping one's neighbours. If the ordinary man or woman is complacent it is because the Church has become complacent, and this is one thing that Christ was not.
Jesus was never a pillar of the Establishment. He never did behave as an obliging young "square"; he was in fact a social deviant, but whatever he did, he did for man, because he was concerned about people — neighbours. He was in conflict with the State and the social order; he held them in disregard and combated their demands.
The uncomprising originality of Christ's behaviour and at titudes are forgotten today; they are lost in our own selfishness, in our complacency, in our own compromising. Christ, too, was a man of flesh and blood, a constant goad to the complacent, and this is what the Church, the committed Christians, ought to be doing to right this great and sad injustice of today's vast army of homeless individualS.
We are reluctant to be permissive, even in the hest sense of the word; we are horrified with the so-called permissive age. We decry this act, we denounce and criticise another, and yet the Church, the Christian, is being too permissive by far — in the worst possible meaning — in permitting a situation of this kind to become the accepted thing.
The committed Christian surely has a bigger responsibility than the non-Christian, and must therefore make a bigger effort to support those who are doing their bit for this unfortunate and neglected section of society.
One instance of today's complacency is illustrated in Birmingham, where there is only one Catholic hostel for homeless men. This is the second largest city in Britain and has an extremely large Catholic population, but at best caters for only 10 homeless men, it is an S.V.P. hostel, which they wish to extend and cater for more than their present capacity; but here again, because of a sad lack of Catholic support, they are unable to do so,
Another instance was recently reported in connection with the Catholic Prisoners Aid Society when Dr. Anthony Kelly, reporting on its work, said: "We are too often shocked by the small numbers of Catholics who support their efforts." My experiences and the experience of others in this important and vital field of activity is the same.
The face of Christ is seen in the suffering, the oppressed, the poor. It is the face" of all humanity. It is the face of any man. A person can say "I love God" and hate hiS brother. But he cannot love 'God and be complacent about his neighbour's suffering or the oppression of the poor.
This is a contradiction in terms. It is a lie. A man who does not love or help his brother, whom he can see, certainly cannot love God, whom he has never seen. The same can be said of those who do not sups port the efforts of those groups who are doing essential, constructive and meaningful work for others.
Christians are Christ's ambassadors, and God makes his appeal through them. His life was a way of love, a way of concern. He, for man's sake, became poor; he was born a vagrant, so that, through his poverty, man might become rich, and to his followers he left One commandment: "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another."
It is this, not in going to Church, that the Christian shows witness to his commitment to God through Christ,