Birmingham Without Walls

Proximate

Hollie Woodis, a student at Samford University, said she was given insight to a different perspective of homeless by sheer happenstance.

“My boss went out of town and asked me to run errands while he was gone,” Woodis said. “He asked me to run a check to the post office.”

But the trip that was supposed to be a straight-shot to the post office took a turn that Woodis did not expect. That was the day she met a Birmingham citizen living without a home.

“I saw a man walking on the side of the road,” she said, “and he had his big bag and was looking down on himself, like he wanted a ride.”

Woodis picked up the man, whose name she later learned was Lonny Williams, and gave him a ride to the post office.

“Our relationship formed out of that,” she said. “I gave him my number and he calls me when he needs a ride, usually to the post office or to his nephew’s house.”

When Woodis was confronted with this image of homelessness—one that she said she had never seen before—it gave her the opportunity to view homelessness differently. Woodis said it was this personal relationship with a member of the houseless community that allowed her to combat houselessness in Birmingham—not through ministry or activism, but through simple understanding and friendship.

Mallory Pettet, who works with homeless people in Five Points recalls a conversation she had with a local activist. “One thing he told me that raised my hair is this: ‘In order to change the narrative we have cast, we must proximate ourselves with the parts of our city that are broken,’” Pettet said.

“We just want to know them,” Hannah Baker said. “So many [of the homeless] are so broken and are so willing to admit ‘I did wrong, I made a mistake and now I’m stuck.’ It’s not because they are a different kind of people. There is just a lot of hopelessness in trying to get out of that.”

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

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