Birmingham Without Walls

A Voice for the Homeless

Ryan Hamilton-Schumacher and his wife, Hope, noticed a hole in Birmingham. When the couple relocated to Birmingham from Nashville in 2009, they noticed a clear division between two communities in the city.

“We recognized the privilege that we didn’t earn, but were born into,” Hamilton-Schumacher said. “That privilege unfairly gave us a larger voice than others.”

The computer programmer and his wife, a doula, decided to fill that hole by creating a newspaper catering to Birmingham’s homeless community.

“We wanted to provide a medium for those who didn’t have a voice to have a voice, whether it was creative writing, poetry, drawing or reporting on occurrences in the city,” Hamilton-Schumacher said.

The street paper, aptly named The Voice, was a carefully designed business model intended to lead Birmingham’s impoverished citizens back into the work force.

“What we saw as a problem was that if you’re experiencing homelessness, it’s difficult to earn a job. Employers ask for all these key pieces of information that someone who is homeless will not have,” Hamilton-Schumacher said.

“So, this was an avenue to reintroduce individuals to the job market. We wanted to be able to provide some infrastructure to their work and help them earn their own money. They also have someone to put as a reference. We say it is a tool to help individuals pursue other jobs.”

Hamilton-Schumacher said that combatting homelessness begins with employing people who are experiencing homelessness. According to Hamilton-Schumacher, the inability to maintain a reliable source of income aggravates the cycle of homelessness.

“There is a large community of people in the religious community that want to help homeless and houseless people, with all the best intentions in the world,” he said, “but the issue of homelessness cannot be solved just by giving money and feeding people. You can’t rent an apartment, pay for food and send your children to daycare while working at McDonald’s. There is no way to survive. You have to get more than one job, but you won’t be there for your family.”

This is the third installment of a five-part series. 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5