There are many reasons why people become homeless in Austin/Travis County, such as employment issues, addictions, disabilities, criminal records and mental illness. But if you ask Alan Graham, most homeless people do have a desire to find a place that not only provides shelter, but where they can build positive relationships and express their creativity.
So, it’s no surprise that the organization Graham founded, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, calls the master-planned project it’s building for chronically homeless residents Northeast of Austin “Community First! Village.” On June 4th, Graham gave HousingWorks Austin a tour of the property, which is no small task.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the 27-acre Community First! Village is its diversity. About 250 residents, all single adults, will live in housing options of less than 200 square feet that will range from fifth-wheel RV’s to micro-homes and canvas-sided cottages. Most residents will share community kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities.
There will also be a variety of amenities designed to help residents achieve and maintain self-sufficiency including a community garden, a chicken and rabbit raising operation, a beekeeping operation, a workshop with a tool bank and an art gallery.
Equally as diverse is Graham’s vision of the residents of Community First! Graham said, “I would like 50 homeless veterans living in this community. I would like 50 people out of the downtown community that are called the frequent fliers (people who make frequent visits to emergency rooms and jails). I would like 50 of the highest risk people who are going to die if they continue to live on the streets and I would like 50 people who are homeless, but may not fit into any one of those categories.”
Before moving into Community First!, residents will go through a coordinated assessment including fingerprinting and a background check. However, they will not be disqualified based on their history of addictions or crime, with the only exception being registered sex offenders. Graham said, “If you’re willing to go into counseling and learn to deal with your problems, we will come up alongside you. But, the second you fail on that deal, then you’ve gotta be out because we’ve got a community to protect.”
Alan Graham says everyone in Community First! will understand that they must pay rent, anywhere from around $200 to $400, they must follow civil law and they must follow community rules regarding cleanliness and behavior.
Community First! Village will have a worship center and places for study. Thanks to corporate donors the Village will also have a medical facility, a small grocery store and an outdoor theater. A bed and breakfast area will provide accommodations for people on mission trips and for tourists. That housing is expected to generate revenue and income for the community and its residents during major events like SXSW, Rodeo Austin and Formula 1 races. For more information and how you can get involved with Community First! Village, visit the Mobile Loaves & Fishes website.
Click here to view a photo gallery from the HousingWorks Austin visit to Community First! Village.