Tiny Houses, Big Hearts

Natasha Ford, Photos courtesy of Mobile Loaves and Fishes

Innovative communities help get homeless off the streets.

There is no denying there’s a homeless problem in Austin. Throughout the city, people can be seen sleeping on benches and under highway overpasses. The way to fix this problem is to get the homeless population settled so they can work on earning an income and move out of the fringes of society. In short, we need to find homeless people homes. But how is this accomplished? The cost of living in Austin, or any city, for that matter, is expensive. However, an organization located within the Austin city limits believes it has found the solution: tiny houses.

Faith-based Mobile Loaves & Fishes is dedicated to feeding and helping the chronically homeless population in Austin. About 10 years ago, it developed a master plan that would give people who were homeless affordable places to live, a way to earn an income and, most importantly, create a community.

The Community First! Village, located north of Austin, is a 27-acre community of “tiny houses” intended for homeless that features running electricity, basic kitchens and bathhouses no more than 30 yards away from each house. The tiny houses are approximately 144 square feet, and cost anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000. In the next five years, the village also will feature an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, sustainable gardens with fruits and vegetables and a bed-and-breakfast, as a way for the villagers to earn an income.

During the last nine years, Mobile Loaves & Fishes has successfully lifted 99 disabled, longtime homeless folks into affordable housing, with 87 percent successfully lifted off the streets.

For many people moving into tiny houses, it’s more than just a trend. The movement is a way for the culture to look at the excesses in our lives, and simplify. It’s a response to a lack of community. That’s why Mobile Loaves & Fishes decided to work with tiny houses in its Community First! Village. The tiny houses are not only a way to help get people who are homeless off the streets, but they are also a way to surround homeless people with community and support—from each other and volunteers in the village.

“This is the most affordable way to take care of the homeless,” says Donna Emery, development director of the Community First! Village.

The initial campaign raised $7 million, and Emery estimates the Community First! Village will save the City of Austin anywhere between $5 million and $10 million.

The Community First! Village has received a lot of national publicity since its groundbreaking and unveiling a few years ago. The village is thought of as being the most innovative solution for the homeless. Many cities throughout the country are working on their own versions of the Community First! Village, using the Austin master plan as a template.

To donate, volunteer, or learn more about Mobile Loaves & Fishes and the Community First! Village, visit mlf.org/pave-the-way-home.


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