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Campaign would raise $60M to house homeless

Thursday, November 9, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

The Mobile Loaves & Fishes nonprofit announced plans to help reduce Austin’s homeless population over the next 10 years through a series of expansions of its Community First! Village project in Northeast Austin.

The expansions will be paid for with a decade-long, $60 million capital campaign that will let the village provide housing and supportive services to 1,250 residents, or more than half of the 2,000 people in Austin estimated to experience homelessness on any given night.

The effort was announced Wednesday at Community First! Village, with several hundred local leaders and elected officials on hand to learn about the effort.

Alan Graham, co-founder, president and CEO of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, said the first milestone of $20 million, estimated to be complete around 2020, would let the village grow to 550 residents, or nearly triple the 200 currently living in small homes and trailer residences on the property near the Travis County Exposition Center. His strategy for the fundraising effort will enlist 60 “bundlers” throughout the community who would commit to each raising $100,000 per year for a decade.

Money for the project would come entirely from the private sector and possibly foundations, with no public funding expected. Still, Graham made multiple mentions of Mayor Steve Adler’s proposed “downtown puzzle” plan, which would use a portion of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax to pay for services for the homeless population.

“The downtown puzzle is a large piece of how we’ll come together as a community,” Graham said. “We need to inspire everyone on every single level to become a part of this. You and I can come together, partner with the city of Austin and the mayor’s downtown puzzle and do something that no other city in the United States of America has ever done, and mitigate this to a level that allows us as a community to manage what’s happening out there.”

Graham said the organization has $6 million already committed and another $9 million in expected contributions on the way soon, putting it one-quarter of the way toward its goal.

Other components of the capital campaign would create a “runway home” that would provide services to help get some homeless residents back on their feet. And a program that employs recovering homeless residents as vendors selling bottled water and snacks during high-traffic times downtown is seeking a commissary space in the area to serve as a home base for the vendors.

Adler said the expansion of the Community First! project would take pressure off of other homeless resource organizations operating throughout the city, but there would still be a need to use HOT revenue for homeless issues.

“This effort plays a part, but we still need Salvation Army, still need ECHO, Caritas, and still need the ARCH in a different operating function,” he said. “There are segments of the homeless population that we have to get to. This takes care of an important cohort but there are still others.”

The downtown puzzle is still being analyzed by city staff, and City Council has yet to pass any resolutions that would enact pieces of policy Adler has proposed. Putting the plan into action, he said, would let the city take a large step toward solving the crowds of homeless gathered downtown.

“The problem with dealing with homelessness is, when you have the great idea and identify the tools, you need the resources to make it work,” he said. “The community has stepped up in a great way with the place where we’re standing today. The puzzle is a way to tie into tourist money to be able to create an ongoing and dedicated income stream that could be $5 million to $10 million a year out of hotel taxes.”

Photo courtesy of Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

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