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by Steve Wilson

Mobile Loaves & Fishes has set down deep roots with its Community First! Village, a permanent place to live, work and thrive for more than 200 of Austin’s homeless. On a gentle hill in East Austin near the fairgrounds, the 27-acre village features 100 lots for RVs; 125 micro-homes, canvas-sided cottages or platform tents; and 12 tepee sites (all available for a modest monthly rental fee), plus winding streets, lots of garden space, crowing roosters, decorative windmills and even a giant chess set.

Nearing completion, the village aims to provide what the group says homeless people need most: neighbors. “The underlying theme of people on the street is that they’ve had a catastrophic loss of their family or support network,” says Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community Relations Director Sarah Boettcher. “We’re not just trying to alleviate part of the problem, the way a soup kitchen does. We’re going to the heart of the problem by helping them become part of a community.”

It’s the natural next step for a group that started giving out food, clothing and sermons from a van to the homeless in 1998. Since then, the ministry has grown to serve more than 4.5 million meals, using 15 trucks to deliver about 75 meals each day of the year. For the past 10 years, the ministry has provided housing for 99 homeless people in motor homes across Austin, and had an 87 percent success rate keeping the occupants there. But with RV parks as susceptible to rent hikes as all other housing in Austin, the new village is a way to ensure that residents don’t get sent back to the streets.

Beyond stable rents, people who live in the village’s innovative mix of housing will also have the chance to work. Community First! Village also includes Genesis Gardens, a blacksmith shop, a bed-and-breakfast, an art house, a food trailer and other opportunities for residents to experience the benefits of earning what the group calls “a dignified income.”cmntyfirst1

“There’s no better way for people to feel a sense of dignity than to give them the opportunity to make an income,” says Boettcher. “People need more than a home.”

Proceeds from Edible Austin’s Eat Drink Local Week will benefit Mobile Loaves & Fishes this year. For more information about Community First! Village, visit mlf.org or call 512-328-7299.