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Council OKs land for mobile home park for homeless

Friday, April 11, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council has approved leasing 10 acres of land to Mobile Loaves and Fishes for a mobile home park for the non-profit group to place individuals who are homeless. However, neighbors of the city-owned tract were not too happy to have 175 new neighbors who were formerly homeless.


Mobile Loaves and Fishes plans to call the mobile home park “Park Place Village,” using donations to pay for those mobile homes and then leasing them at below-market rates to individuals who are homeless.


The non-profit group has already placed several homeless people into trailers at existing RV parks around the city. The proposal follows the “Housing First” model in which the focus is on finding permanent shelter for the homeless, followed by other social services or medical treatment.


“Our purpose is to stop this transitional stuff for the chronic homeless. It’s to provide them with a community they can live in to call their own,” said Mobile Loaves and Fishes founder and CEO Alan Graham. “This is going to be a wonderful long-term place for them.”


Neighbors of the site on Harold Court near Ed Bluestein were not convinced that concentrating up to 175 formerly homeless people in one place would be a good idea. “Many homeless are drug addicts, many homeless are alcoholics,” said Greg Blackman, who lives on Harold Court. “Would any one here like to move 175 drug addicts, alcoholics, and sexual predators to your neighborhood? I don’t think that you would.” Other east-side residents, including Susana Almanza of PODER, said they were upset they had not received advance notice about the item on the Council’s agenda.


However, Graham said safeguards would be in place to make sure the site, which is in a primarily industrial area, would not have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood. “We believe that we’re developing a model that’s going to be an asset to the community,” he said, “and one in which other communities from around the United States are going to want to come and see and model…in order to be able to effectively deal with their homeless problems.”


Graham has already drawn up a list of rules for residents of the proposed mobile home park. He said background checks would be conducted on residents, but that having a criminal conviction would not automatically disqualify applicants. There will be a residents’ council, and non-residents will gate the community to limit access. Staffers from Mobile Loaves and Fishes will also be on-site to help refer residents to social service agencies.


The site was selected to meet several criteria including proximity to a Capital Metro bus stop, proximity to downtown, and separation from existing neighborhoods. “We looked everywhere. I was thrilled that it was in my neighborhood,” said Council Member Mike Martinez, who lives approximately one mile from the site. “Because I knew that inevitably, there would be folks from my own neighborhood who would not support it. But I would not be pushing for this and I would not have championed this cause if I didn’t think it was a good thing and was something that we needed in Austin.”


Volunteers from the Real Estate Council of Austin have already done preliminary work on the plans for the mobile home park. Once the City Manager’s Office works out the lease arrangement with Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the group plans to begin moving trailers with the formerly homeless tenants from existing RV parks into the new Park Place Village. That could begin as early as November.

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