MORE THAN 28,000 chil dren are born in the United Kingdom each year with limited mental abilities. Many of them. even after the care and training given them in special schools and classes are ultimately, as adults, unable to cope adequately with the demands of a complex industrialised society.
As they become increasingly economically unproductive, bewildered and unstabilised by the pace of change, it is not surprising that many of them increase the numbers of drifters who, because of other health circumstances, family problems, economic causes, laziness or criminality, lack the stability essential to form lasting relationships and to find for themselves a satisfactory place in a community.
The result is a growing problem of single homeless people, growing to such an extent that The Times recently estimated that in the last seven years their numbers had increased from 30,000 to over 50,000.
Their prototype, "Edna, the Inebriate Woman," has become a national problem of such magnitude that Sir Keith Joseph, Minister of Social Services has ordered the first national survey of the numbers of socially handicapped people who either sleep rough or drift from one reception centre to another.
This may well be the beginnings of a commendable and desirable effort at least to get the measure of the problem and not to sweep it under the social carpet. The figures will, it is expected, make unpleasant and disturbing reading.
To ignore them or what we now know of them—and we do know a lot — would be in human terms disastrous : in religious terms, it would be a denial of whatever Christianity means.
To make matters worse, as old property in urban centres falls to the bulldozer, the cornmon lodging houses which up to the present have provided some form of partial solution to the problem of the rough sleepers are being demolished. In London alone in the last 10 years the number of beds they provide has fallen from 6,045 to 4,708.
It was against this back
ground that the Liverpool Simon Community accepted responsibility for the "Winter Survival Campaign" on Merseyside to provide practical help at street level for those most in need during the coming winter.
To begin with, from a base in the University Catholic Chaplaincy. the Community organised 40 student volunteers on a head count of those sleeping rough on one night at 'the crxl of October. Similar surveys are being conducted by a consortium of voluntary organisations such as St. Mungo and the Cyrenians, who have a close common bond, in the major cities.
In Liverpool, after collating their figures with those obtained from other agencies who accepted casuals on the same night, Simon found that over 90 people were without homes, "of no fixed address," in an area of approximately eight square miles.
This is some indication of the problem in our industrial connurbations. It needs little imagination to picture the human suffering involved as the worst weather approaches and the homeless tend to move out of London to the North and the Midlands for the winter.
Two Liverpool projects will help to improve the situation. The one most immediately effective, in addition to Simon's and other voluntary contributions, will he Marmaduke House, a shop and warehouse property which has been converted, largely by voluntary labour, under the leadership of Fr. Tony Smith of St. Mary's, Highfield Street, after it had been obtained on a five-year lease at 150 annual rent, from Liverpool Corporation.
Marmaduke had its origins last Christmas when the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral was used to accommodate 80 homeless people under a scheme organised by the I.iverpool Polytechnic Students' Union and the Abercromby Residents' Association.
Health and fire regulations prevent a building being used as a temporary shelter for more than 14 days, and so the casuals had to move on.
Another 14-day period was immediately provided for them in the old hall at Fr. Smith's parish where an appeal to the congregations attending Mass there on the Feast of the Epiphany—it serves as a special kind of parish for the Liverpool business community — by the Administrator, Fr. Tony Hitchen, raised £400 on the day, later raised to £1,000.
A house in Marmaduke Street was offered by a parishioner for a more permanent shelter, but it was discovered that redevelopment plans would give it only a twoyear life.
An appeal was then made to Liverpool Corporation, who gave the use of premises in Cleveland Square, not far away from the old Seamen's Home, itself about to he demolished to make way for a new office block.
The name Marmaduke was retained, and volunteers set about the task of making It into a home acceptable to health and fire regulations.
Working seven days a week and with specialist help (which had to be paid for, so that the £1,000 is now almost spent) begging paint as a church-door collection, obtaining furniture no longer needed as the Blind Institute moved to its new site at Christopher Grange — in general, scrounging, making do and using "do-it-yourself" methods—the volunteers are getting the place ready before the winter really sets in.
It is hoped to provide a temporary permanent address for 30 people to help them to become stabilised. For those who do register there the Ministry of Social Security will pay £5.25 for which Marmaduke will give full board and lodging. Other casuals will be charged 15p per night.
An appeal has been made to Urban Aid for £3,000. Four full-time workers will he paid £7.50 a week with food provided while at work.
If the house is registered as a charity under the archdiocese it will qualify for a 50 per cent rebate. There will always be a need for considerable financial help as it is estimated that it will cost more than £4,000 a year to keep Marmaduke open.
The other project, the conversion of the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral to an all-night shelter to be administered by the Simon Community, was given the go-ahead last week by Liverpool Archdiocese. At a cost of £26,000, of which £10,000 has still to be raised. it will cater for 24 homeless.
Its clients will be those in immediate need of supportive care who are, at least for the time being, unable to use alternative accommodation. No one will be able to live in it as his home: it is a "first aid" until more positive and lasting support can he found for those who can respond. Five religious orders, probation and police officers, members of many faiths, have offered to help.
There will be a room which can be used for meals, a small kitchen, an office and an area reserved for staff, lavatory and cleansing facilities and both cubicle and open dormitory sleeping accomodation for the men. The numbers will not be allowed to be so great that a personal interest cannot be preserved.
"Among the wanderers in our cities there are many who can be guided to better things, and this seems a work nearer to the heart of Our Lord," said Bishop Harris, who has inspired the project.
"Under the Cathedral of Christ the King those less able to support themselves will be shown a kindness which may not have been offered by a busy community which sometimes tries to forget the 'Third World' on its own doorstep."