Birmingham Without Walls

Homeless in Birmingham

Hamilton-Schumacher frequently tells the story of the best newspaper seller he ever met.

“If all our time invested in The Voice came down to one story and one life that was changed, this would justify it all,” he said.

“The story is of this man that came to us. I don’t remember his name,” Hamilton-Schumacher said. “He was a builder—a contractor—living paycheck to paycheck.

“He came from up north and all of his jobs were numbers in his phone and he lost his phone one day. And losing his phone created a snowball effect. This guy who had been his primary contact wasn’t able to communicate with him and probably interpreted his silence as the inability to follow up on a job.

“He lost his work and was evicted from his apartment. Because he had no money coming in, he lost his car insurance. Since he was no longer able to drive it, he sold it because he needed cash. He eventually ended up on the streets. And he is a skilled builder that—because of the loss of his phone—ended up on the streets.”

Hamilton said those circumstances play out over and over; one mistake or one slip sentences people to years of poverty to be served on a street corner or in transitional housing. In the city of Birmingham, the rate of unemployment is 5.4, comparable to 5.0 in Atlanta and 5.2 in New York and a half a percentage point higher than the national average.

“I feel that homelessness is systemic and there are not only current but also historical events that have led to what we are experiencing today,” Hamilton-Schumacher said. “There are individuals in this city who are living paycheck to paycheck.

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

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