It costs taxpayers up to $5 million per year to house 250 homeless people through the City of Austin.
Alan Graham and his Mobile Loaves and Fishes team members are offering a private solution to relieve the city of that burden, while lifting Austin’s homeless population up by providing them a place to live, be proud of and restore their confidence.
Mobile Loaves and Fishes Is Fueled by Compassion
Sixteen years ago, a desire to help the homeless led Alan Graham to buy a catering truck. He began to feed and provide clothing to those in need.
His dedication became infectious and people started to volunteer. Mobile Loaves and Fishes has grown to 12 catering trucks and services roughly 1,000 people daily.
Community Relations Director Nate Schlueter told me how the project has impacted Austin, “Mobile Loaves and Fishes has not only benefited the homeless by providing food and clothing. It has also been a bonding experience between two communities that normally don’t interact.”
I don’t know about you, but my interactions with the homeless are generally limited to small donations taking place at random intersections, or food and clothing drives where the beneficiaries aren’t present. This detachment is non-existent for Mobile Loaves and Fishes volunteers. They interact with the people they’re helping. They speak with them, know their names and form bonds, bridging the cultural gap.
Expanding the Mission by Fighting Homelessness
Graham and his team didn’t stop with food and clothing. In 2004, they housed their first person in an RV. Schlueter provided me an interesting statistic on the housing topic, “Since we lifted our first person into an RV, we’ve been able to provide homes for a total of 110 people with an 87% percent retention rate.” The RVs are located at privately owned RV parks in the Austin area.
The Mobile Loaves and Fishes team wants to do more. Two years ago, they secured 27 acres south of the Travis County Expo Center on Hog Eye Rd. through private donations. There, they broke ground on Community First Village. The goal of this master planned community is to lift up to 250 homeless people off the streets, provide them shelter and give them an opportunity to revitalize their lives.
The Village is similar to many communities in the Austin area. In fact, the community rules are familiar to anyone in a master planned community:
- Residents must pay rent, ranging between $120-450/month
- They must obey civil law.
- All dogs must be leashed and the other end of the leash must be held by the pet’s owner.
- Indoor furniture needs to stay indoors.
- Keep the area clean.
Teaching Men to Fish at Community First Village
When I asked Schlueter about rent requirements, he discussed how residents can earn money to cover their rent. “We are providing residents an opportunity to take part in micro enterprise in which they keep the profit.” Some of these opportunities take place in a 5500 sq. ft. operations building being built by McCoy’s Buillding Supply. The building will house a 700 sq. ft. art studio and a workshop where residents can be creative. Part of the operations building will also house offices and a community maintenance shop. Residents will also have the opportunity to sell their wares at local festivals.
Any master planned community worth its salt has amenities. Community First Village is no different. Alamo Drafthouse will be donating equipment to set up an outdoor movie theater. There will be an onsite medical clinic, space for group meetings and there is a community garden already being cultivated. The garden serves a twofold purpose: subsidize food for residents, and build morale and cohesion.
How You Can Help
The end goal is to have the Community First Village filled to 90-95% capacity within 18 months of this writing, but Mobile Loaves and Fishes needs our help. Currently, they’re running a capital campaign for the micro homes and can always use a helping hand from volunteers at the community site or with Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ day to day operations. Volunteer information and opportunities can be found on the the Mobile Loaves and Fishes website.
What do you think of Community First Village?