This week is the American Thanksgiving holiday. As we sit in our nice warm homes, stuffing ourselves with fat birds and planning our Black Friday mode of attack… well, you know, there are those less fortunate who are huddling under cardboard boxes not too far from where we live. (Sometimes I can even see them in the back alley.)
That said, this unorthodox planned village in East Austin, Texas gives me great hope and optimism about the human race.
Community First! Village [don't forget the !] is a 27 acre community that is being built to provide affordable housing in a supportive environment for the disabled and homeless in central Texas. The village is meant to be a sustainable project complete with a community garden, wood-working shop, medical/mental health center and even a movie theatre.
The idea is to give men and women living on the streets not only a permanent roof over their heads, but also a built-in community. Remarkably, it is being funded entirely by private money.
The village resembles a funky RV campground – there are a couple of Airstreams and even a tee-pee!
The project is organized by the Austin not-for-profit Mobile Loaves and Fishes whose plight it is to deliver meals to homeless people.
The Community First! Village has the backing of the mayor and local business owners. Community leaders believe that it will help alleviate the crush of homeless folks in the downtown core, and give the less fortunate a chance to experience a stable home and mutually supportive neighbors.
In order to promote a safe and secure environment, the village will be a “gated community” where only residents and registered guests can enter.
But these are not free flop houses. Rather, they each have a monthly rental fee based on the size of the house and amenities within. For example, the “tent” only rents for $50 a month but the more permanent structures rent for upwards of $375 a month.
The people who live here must have jobs to pay the rent. Some of those jobs will be provided by the food vending carts that Mobile Loaves and Fishes runs.
Sure the cynics will scoff that this is just a glorified mobile home park with a social conscience. But I can’t help but think how much better an option this is than a dehumanizing institutional homeless shelter. (I’ve worked at them.)
The project is only partially complete with just half of the $6.5 million in funds raised.
If you would like to donate or assist in any other way, contact the good folks at Community First! Village for more information.
Yes, some will dismiss it as a utopian hippy commune with a slightly capitalist slant (you do need to pay rent, after all).
But I like to think about the possibilities here.
If you can instill a person with a sense of place and a pride of place, it will go a long way toward lifting them out of the ditch they were in.