National Homeless Awareness Week is an annual occurrence, but Birmingham residents might be hearing a little more about it this year thanks to the efforts of local nonprofit organization One Roof. One Roof has organized events centered around the week in the past — last year, for instance, activities included a screening of the documentary Storied Streets — but for this year’s National Homeless Awareness Week (which started Nov. 14 and will extend through Nov. 22), One Roof is hoping to raise a little more awareness.
Part of that is due to the participation of Paul Janeway, lead singer of Birmingham soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, who is collaborating with One Roof for the week. Amidst preparing the band’s new album and upcoming concerts at the Alabama Theatre, Janeway headlined the event Under One Roof with Paul on Tuesday night, a fundraising meet-and-greet which also featured auctions of band memorabilia and art by homeless or formerly homeless artists.
Janeway says his decision to collaborate with One Roof came with the financial stability his burgeoning music career offered. “I quit living paycheck to paycheck, and I wanted to do something within the community,” he said. Though he was surprised by the variety of nonprofits lobbying for his high-profile endorsement, he says he chose One Roof because it focused on “something that I was pretty passionate about. [I’m drawn to] homelessness, the voiceless, people who can’t really say much because they don’t have money and power.”
While One Roof does not typically work directly with the homeless, it coordinates and serves as a fundraiser for many organizations in central Alabama such as the Firehouse Shelter, First Light and the Salvation Army, among others. It also provides a database that enables effective communication between such agencies and competes annually for federal grants which would benefit those organizations.
“I just fell in love with [One Roof] and they took me on a tour of the Firehouse Shelter and the women’s shelter downtown and then they showed me places out on Finley Avenue where they’re building houses for families,” Janeway said. “It hit me in the right spot. I told my wife that moment, ‘This is where I really want to [help].’”
Janeway says he was reluctant to draw attention to himself with the fundraiser. “I feel like, when your name’s attached to it, you kind of get the credit for it instantaneously,” he said. “That’s not why I’m doing this.” The opportunity to raise awareness for an often overlooked problem changed his mind, he says.
“Playing at the Alabama Theatre, for example, you pass the Firehouse Shelter constantly,” he said. “As a young teenager, I went to Atlanta and worked at a homeless shelter for a summer. What you just kind of realize is that it’s complicated. I feel like there are people who are just as intelligent, if not more intelligent, people who have just had [expletive] luck, and it’s something in Birmingham that I feel like it doesn’t get noticed as much. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to discount and not make eye contact and not care.”
One Roof’s second event of the week won’t involve Janeway, but it hopes to directly address the complexities of homelessness he described. Cardboard City, which will be held Thursday, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. at Railroad Park, is a homelessness simulation game designed “to show people how and why people become and stay homeless,” according to One Roof community outreach coordinator Courtney Stinson. Participants will be given an identity based on one of the subpopulations of the homeless community — a veteran, for example, or a victim of domestic violence — and will then have to find an income, a safe place to sleep and a way to eat free meals while navigating social stigmas acted out by One Roof volunteers.
“What we want the community to take away from these events is that homelessness is complex and that in order to end homelessness, which is our true focus and the focus of these events, it’s going to take collaboration as a community,” Stinson said.
For more information on One Roof and National Homeless Awareness Week, visit oneroofonline.org.