Updated Hopes For Community First! Village

by Rick Chafey,

Community First! VillageSoon, 250 to 300 homeless people will leave the streets of Austin to take up residence in the newly established Community First! Village, a 27-acre master-planned community on Hog Eye Road near Decker Lake. The Village, a ministry of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, “will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled, chronically homeless in Central Texas,” according to their website. Founder and president Alan Graham hosted a tour for Challenger staff on Sunday, June 28, 2015. Due to recent rains, he said, construction has been delayed by about two months and an opening date has not been announced, but he is optimistic that people will soon be able to move in. He encourages anyone who is chronically homeless and interested in joining the Village to start the application process now. See below for requirements and contact information. Space is available.

The site features an innovative mix of private, individual housing structures clus-tered around shared outdoor kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. Community spaces abound: vegetable gardens, animal confinements including beehives and an aquaponic greenhouse, blacksmithing and woodworking shops, an art gallery, office space with wifi, an outdoor theater, a house of worship that opens to the outdoors so everyone feels comfortable going to church, a prayer labyrinth, hundreds of fruit and nut trees, a memorial garden with a columbarium where residents can be interred and remembered in death. A medical facility will provide mental and physical health screenings, hospice and respite care, and patient advocacy. The Village is serviced by Capital Metro route 237.

Housing options range from permanent tents erected on concrete foundations to micro-houses and recreational vehicles. The tents and micro-houses will include personal refrigerators and microwaves but not restrooms or kitchens, while the recreational vehicles include air conditioning, plumbing and cooking appliances. Restrooms, kitchens and coin-operated laundries are conveniently located throughout the Village, with each one serving 25-30 residences. Six full-time staff members and an army of volunteers will maintain the facilities.

In addition to providing housing and support services, the Village will foster several micro-business opportunities for residents to earn income. HEB is constructing a community market which residents will operate. Several small recreational vehicles clustered around an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor theater will enable residents to operate a bed and breakfast for paying guests. Fully stocked workshops sponsored by McCoy’s Building Supply, will provide residents with the tools and skills needed to make and sell their own art or handicrafts to the public, from which they will keep 100% of the proceeds.

New residents will be required to sign a housing contract setting out three covenants that must be followed by all community members. First, they must agree to pay their rent. Graham explained that there are no free rides and everybody must pay. Failure to pay rent on time will result in immediate removal from the community. Second, they must agree to follow the civil law. Violence or other illegal activities will result in immediate removal. Third, a resident association or board will be established, with responsibility for maintaining a healthy, safe, and vibrant community for everybody.

The resident association will work together with Graham and his staff to develop the policies and procedures that govern daily life in the Village, as well as dealing with problems when they arise. Graham described a “spirit of resolution” and expects that some residents will be struggling with substance abuse, mental health problems or behavioral issues. “If your problem spills over to the community, we will decide as a community how to deal with that. We hope people can escape drug addiction and we want to help them,” Graham said. Guiding and helping people as they work through these life changes is all part of his plan: building a supportive community, not just a bunch of houses.

Space is still available and applications are currently being accepted. According to Graham, the purpose of the Village is to get our homeless brothers and sisters off the streets, so it is only open to chronically homeless individuals. Due to funding requirements, sex offenders are ineligible, but all others should contact blythe@mlf.org to apply. The amount of rent for each type of structure was not available at press time, but Graham emphasized that they will all be affordable, as Mobile Loaves and Fishes will continue to subsidize the Village from donations to its ministry.

Donations and volunteers are always needed at the Community First! Village and other ministries of Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

See their website at www.mlf.org for more information.

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