Founder of homeless charity named Austinite of the Year


Pure joy, for Alan Graham, means being out on the streets on a cold night with the poor, the down-trodden, the abandoned, the neglected.

Since he began his Mobile Loaves & Fishes ministry to help the homeless, Graham estimates he’s spent about 150 nights on the streets for “Street Retreats,” which the organization uses to teach people about the experience of living as a homeless person. During each of these retreats, he runs into homeless people he’s met in the past who remember him and the help he and his organization have lent them.

“It makes me proud that no matter where I go, I have the same impact,” Graham said.

On Wednesday, Graham will be surrounded by very different company when he accepts the 2016 Austinite of the Year Award from the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Past award winners include Kirk Watson, Ann Richards, Roland Swenson and Michael and Susan Dell.

Graham will be recognized for his work as the co-founder and chief executive officer of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which has served more than 4 million meals to people since its founding in 1998 and which recently started work on a 27-acre master planned community in Austin that will provide affordable housing for chronically homeless people.

The community will also offer programs to help residents with problems that often afflict the homeless community, such as alcohol or substance abuse and mental illnesses.

“The Community First Village is a place where people can come and continue to build relationships,” Graham said. “Housing will never solve homelessness but community will.”

After a successful career in real estate, Graham followed a calling and devoted his life to helping the city’s homeless. That calling is rooted in his Roman Catholic faith and on the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced his wealthy upbringing and lived a life of poverty devoted to God. It is from one of Francis’ teachings that Graham takes his notion of “pure joy.”

Graham believes he’s doing God’s work by helping the less fortunate, but he rarely mentions religion to the people he helps unless asked.

“I’m not a proselytizer,” he says. “I like to go by a saying attributed to St. Francis that says: ‘Speak the Gospel often, and if necessary, use words.’”

In his work, Graham aims to look beyond a person’s outward appearance to better help the person within, who may be struggling with problems that are not evident, he said. He wants to be a “stereotype buster,” whether that be stereotypes based on race, sexuality or, of course, social status, he said.

When some Travis County residents opposed the building of his Community First Village because it would attract homeless people that they believed would lower property values in the area, Graham pushed back.

“When did we move to a society where we value property values more than human values?” he said.

Never one to back down, he takes people as they come, and they, in turn, accept him as he is. He foregoes the suit and tie of a businessman for jeans, a simple shirt that often carries a Mobile Loaves & Fishes logo and a baseball cap. He can quote scripture and clarify questions over Catholic catechism (he keeps a book on the subject near his desk), but also curses on a whim and sits down for beers with folks.

And it’s that acceptance and down-to-earth quality, his friends say, that have made him so successful in the work he does.

“He’s very real as a person,” said Gene Austin, of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “He knows all aspects of life. He’s witnessed it with the people he’s helped from homelessness and professionally. But he’s a very real and very spiritual man. … He can connect with almost any individual.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Minnesota man has collected nearly 3 million soda can tabs
Minnesota man has collected nearly 3 million soda can tabs

A Minnesota man has been collecting the tabs from aluminum cans for nearly 30 years, and he is closing in on a major milestone. In a Plexiglas box that is the size of a Dumpster, Jim Spinler has collected nearly 3 million tabs. >> Read more trending news “There’s 2,650,000 in there right now,” the 75-year-old Spinler told the...
Kentucky must pay attorney fees for couples who sued Kim Davis
Kentucky must pay attorney fees for couples who sued Kim Davis

A federal judge ruled Friday that Kentucky taxpayers must foot the bill for more than $220,000 in attorney fees for the couples who were denied marriage licenses by the Rowan County clerk, WKYT reported. >> Read more trending news In July 2015, four couples -- two same-sex and two opposite-sex filed suit against Kim Davis, who had refused...
Scientists will battle mosquito population by releasing 20 million of them
Scientists will battle mosquito population by releasing 20 million of them

Mosquitoes are an annoying pest, particularly during the summer. Now, scientists in California are working to shrink the population of the pesky insects that carry disease. >> Read more trending news How? The scientists will be releasing 20 million of them in California. If that sounds counterproductive, there is a method behind it. The plan...
First woman enlists to become a Navy SEAL
First woman enlists to become a Navy SEAL

A woman will be training with other potential candidates as she tries to become te first female Navy SEAL, CNN reported. >> Read more trending news The midshipman and another woman have enlisted and hope to join the Navy’s special operations teams. The Navy declined to identify the candidates, citing security considerations, NPR reported...
Hutto City Council replaces entire development board amid criticism
Hutto City Council replaces entire development board amid criticism

The Hutto City Council has replaced the entire board of directors for the town’s economic development corporation after the city manager criticized it for lavish spending on hotel rooms. The council on Thursday also approved changing the development group’s structure from a type A to a type B corporation so it can attract a wider variety...
More Stories