Anton Wallich-Clifford, a probation officer working in London in the fifties and sixties, noticed that many of the cases he was presented with in the course of his work at Bow Street Station had one common factor – several of the names were followed by three simple letters, NFA – No Fixed Abode. Behind these letters lay a complex and overlooked deeper social issue: homelessness.
Anton became increasingly frustrated by the consistent failure of society to address the problem in a meaningful way. Through his work with the probation services he could see the “thousands who fall yearly through gaping holes in the welfare net”. He recognized the work of many committed people and voluntary groups working with people who were homeless, but equally he recognized the need for a new and radical approach to tackling the problem of homelessness.
His frustration with the persistence of the problems resulted in the founding of the Simon Community.
In 1969 Anton Wallich-Clifford came to Ireland with a view to recruiting volunteers to work with the many Irish people he was meeting who were homeless in England. Through his inspiration and through meeting like-minded people, the first Simon Community was established in Dublin in that year.
Two years later, in 1971, Anton came to Cork and advertised a meeting for those interested in helping people who were homeless in and around the city. From that first meeting, a small group began to meet regularly. This group guided by Anton and the Simon Community philosophy and principles, lobbied local businesses and Cork Corporation as it was known at the time. The volunteers began a regular count of the number of people sleeping rough and started a nightly Soup Run, which volunteers continue to take to the streets every night.
Eventually Cork Simon acquired a property in the city centre to provide shelter and support for people who were homeless. With the incredible support of the people of Cork – supporters, donors and volunteers, in 1996 the Emergency Shelter on Anderson’s Quay opened, which today also houses a Day Service, a high-support house and several flats.
That support from the wider community in Cork has been steadfast. As a result, today Cork Simon offers care, accommodation and support for 127 people every day – 44 people in emergency accommodation, 56 people in five high-support houses and 27 people in Cork Simon flats throughout Cork
Cork Simon also supports people living in private rented accommodation, in city and county council houses and in accommodation provided by various housing associations; supporting people to keep their tenancies and to begin leaving homelessness behind them. There’s a Health Team, an Employment and Training Facilitator, an Activities Co-Ordinator and a Youth Homeless Drug Prevention Project.
Much has changed since that first Cork Simon meeting 44 years ago – services for people who are homeless are vastly improved; we have a greater understanding of the complex nature of homelessness and the complex responses that are required to tackle homelessness; the profile of people who become homeless has changed and the causes of homelessness have expanded.
But there’s also much that hasn’t changed – volunteers are as much a part of Cork Simon today as they were over 40 years ago, perhaps more so. The support from the wider community for Cork Simon and the people we support remains as strong as ever. Our values of Community, Commitment to Care, Diversity, Inclusion, Social Justice and Voluntarism continue to guide everything we do.
As a Community working together we continue to Believe in People as much as the volunteers who founded Cork Simon Community did 44 years ago.