Photo by Mobile Loaves and Fishes. A drone's-eye view of the land Mobile Loaves and Fishes is planning to develop to expand its Community First Village, a largely self-sustaining site that houses Austinites who transitioned out of chronic homelessness.
Thursday, April 15, 2021 by Andrew Weber, KUT

Austin’s village of tiny homes for formerly homeless folks to triple in size

The nonprofit that runs Austin’s Community First Village has acquired land and plans to build out more tiny homes to house Austinites transitioning out of homelessness.

The far East Austin development of tiny homes and trailers, managed by Mobile Loaves and Fishes, houses 221 formerly chronically homeless people. The expansion could add space for at least 1,400 additional tiny homes.

At an announcement Wednesday, MLF’s founder Alan Graham said the nonprofit secured 127 additional acres for two new sites – one will expand the current site off Hog Eye Road and another will host a new village off Burleson Road in Southeast Austin. All told, the expansion, which is set to begin construction next summer, would more than triple the footprint of Community First, from 51 to 178 acres.

Graham emphasized that the expansion is “part of solving the pandemic of homelessness” but emphasized the need for a larger, communitywide effort to address homelessness, an issue that’s become a political football in recent years as Austin’s homeless population has increased.

“We are excited to share the news with Austin, Texas, today because we want our city to see the great things that are happening,” he said. “Because a lot of the time the front page of the news doesn’t include the great things that are happening. We just want to see the things that people can talk and yell and scream about, but this is something we can rejoice.”

The announcement comes ahead of a citywide vote over Austin’s policies surrounding homelessness and as state leaders at the Capitol attempt to target the city’s 2019 decision to largely stop penalizing people for behavior related to homelessness.

Opponents of that decision say it’s led to public health and safety crises and a boom in public tent encampments. Proponents say it’s helped divert people living outdoors from tickets that make it harder to transition out of homelessness.

After the announcement today, Graham called Community First an “apolitical” endeavor, though it’s been held up as a model for solving chronic homelessness by both left-leaning leaders like Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Republican hard-liner Gov. Greg Abbott.

Graham said he hopes the expansion will inspire people of all political stripes to take a more active role and a concerted interest in the actual work it takes to house homeless people.

“Our only goal is to show people what’s possible and to demonstrate to them the hopefulness that exists out here in this community,” Graham said. “And then when we all come up underneath that hopefulness, that’s when we can begin to change.”

Graham says the village, which is run largely by the residents living there, provides people a chance to earn a living by simultaneously contributing to the community.

Resident D’Juan Davis, who lives at the village and works as a cook, jokes that while it’s not the “real world,” he’s found a real sense of community at Community First. He knows his neighbors. He checks on them regularly. And over the pandemic, he helped lead an effort to feed some of those neighbors who have a hard time getting around because they’re older or disabled. Davis and others prepared at least 7,000 meals in the village’s on-site kitchen and delivered them to neighbors, he said.

“That’s me helping someone who couldn’t help themselves, and that’s what we’re all about is helping one another, truly being neighbors,” he said. “In the real world … you live by people you never get to meet. You (live next to) them for five or six years and you never get to meet. That’s not here. We’re going to come check on you. We’re going to come bring you groceries, and that’s the real life of a community.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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