- Nancy Flores American-Statesman Staff
Mitigating homelessness in Austin during the next decade will take boosting affordable housing, reducing panhandling and transitioning people earning zero income back into the economy, according to Mobile Loaves & Fishes founder and CEO Alan Graham.
The nonprofit, which created the 27-acre Community First Village development for chronically homeless men and women, on Wednesday unveiled its 10-year plan to tackle homelessness in Austin.
The plan includes the launch of a $60 million capital campaign for the expansion of Community First Village, which will reach its capacity and house more than 200 formerly homeless Austinites by 2018. An expansion of the East Austin village would allow the organization to create about 350 more homes.
The development features 120 micro-homes, 100 RVs and 20 canvas-sided cottages, as well as an art studio, an outdoor movie theater, blacksmith shop, gardens and a medical facility. Community First Village on Wednesday dedicated a 13,000 square-foot facility called Unity Hall that will provide office space, conference rooms and a commercial kitchen for the nonprofit’s food truck operation and catered events.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes already has purchased an adjacent 24 acres of land for the development’s second phase.
“It’s an RV park on steroids,” Graham said. “In just two years since we began moving residents in, Community First Village has made a measurable difference in addressing homelessness in our city, and we now plan to significantly increase our reach over the course of the next decade.”
Graham said officials are noticing the residents experience fewer hospital visits and crime citations than before they moved into the community.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes also plans to establish a downtown food commissary, which would give homeless men and women who panhandle an opportunity to become entrepreneurs selling items such as ice cream or soft drinks and water.
“The bureaucracy of getting permits to do these things are so onerous that you can’t get it done,” Graham said. “I want to bring this level of entrepreneurism back.”
Vendors would be self-employed, earning what the nonprofit calls “a dignified income” that allows them to live in the village for $225 a month. Mobile Loaves & Fishes would provide all of the inventory at the commissary, and vendors would purchase it, sell it and keep all of the profits and tips, according to the group.
Part of the nonprofit’s 10-year plan also focuses on the 35 percent of the homeless population that earns no income. Graham said bringing those individuals into the community on a graduated basis over a year would allow the group to help stabilize their financial situation and aid them in applying for government benefits or transitioning them into employment.
At least 7,000 people experience homelessness over the course of a year in Travis County. This summer, Austin Mayor Steve Adler proposed a plan to address homelessness in the city by increasing the taxes paid by hotel guests. It’s unclear, though, how that money would be allocated.
“As a society, we’re judged by how we treat the least fortunate,” Adler said. “Mobile Loaves & Fishes is setting a new standard for addressing homelessness in an impactful way — not only in Central Texas, but in communities across the country.”