Courtesy of MT Gibson-Watt, Simon Community Archive
Photo: Richard Matthews
The Dosser’s Bible was assembled throughout the late 1950’s and early 1960s by the founder of the Simon Community. Anton Wallich-Clifford. The Community is based in Camden and from 1963 operated houses for the homeless going way beyond the provision offered at the time to work with homeless people beyond the reach of existing provision. Many major homelessness charities including St Mungos and the Cyrenians came out of the Simon Community.
This elaborate scrapbook has the name the ‘Dosser’s Bible’. A provocative title by today’s standards, the name also suggests a kind of alternative comment on the original bible so this is itself a kind of history lesson. What the object actually contains is a vast compendium of articles and clippings that features many of the debates we see in homelessness today. It is part autobiographical and also a striking visual memoir of the time.
The first thing that strikes you is the now rather faded collage that blends religious iconography with images of the city and faces of homeless people. The first page shows two contrasting articles that give two quite distinct positions on the homeless experience. One replays the familiar recovery story of someone who is homeless, and is a daily mirror article about two rough sleepers and how love saved them “from the garden of lost souls”. The other article is a kind of op-ed piece on whether or not we write off homeless people. This last one has a bit of a personal touch in that Anton has highlighted his own projects by underlining them.
The bible itself is offers insight into a time of great change. Throughout there are references to projects Anton was involved, people who inspired and influenced him and ultimately, the coming together of a community inspired to make change for homeless people. Whether it’s men and women of the church or social reformers like Jeremy Sandford, we can see how historically, these movements influenced each other.
Throughout the bible we see articles that consistently refer to the homeless experience that is unchanged today. There are articles covering the difficulties offenders face when coming out of prison, media stereotyping a housing crisis and of course individual recovery stories. Just as the original bible was meant to be a timeless document, the Dosser’s Bible reminds how so many of the debates we see today about homelessness are unchanged. It also reminds us what can be done if people work together to make change.