A New American Dream; Community First Village

In 2005, Patrick O’Gilfoil Healy wrote an article for the New York Times about Alan Graham and his vision to offer unconditional love and hospitality to the chronically homeless. Healy wrote;

“ON the eastern fringe of town, beside the airport and clogged freeway entrance ramps, there sits a bargain-rack version of the American dream.

Five formerly homeless men are now living in recreational vehicles that were given to them by a homeless outreach group. The men, who are trying to recover from decades of drug abuse, alcoholism and jail time, pay $260 a month each to rent a lot at an existing trailer park. They spend their days working, attending rehab and getting accustomed to electric bills, locking doors at night and the quiet of sleeping inside.

The notion of a trailer park dedicated to homeless people is striking new ground, homeless advocates say.

Alan Graham, a former real estate developer who devised the project, said he is buying more trailers and hopes to set up a recreational vehicle park exclusively for homeless men, women and families. A group he helped found, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, would buy vacant land or cheaply lease a parcel from the city, county or state, he said.

Rudy Garza, an assistant city manager of Austin, said the project is the only one he has ever heard of that takes this approach. “The only thing that would come close to it is Habitat for Humanity,” he said….

Fast forward nine years and this vision, Graham’s fortitude and a community effort are seeing this exciting ideal come to fruition.

community_first_logo_3_24_2011We were honored to visit the MLF Community First Village and Genesis Gardens over two Saturday afternoons. Although, we didn’t meet Alan Graham himself, we did meet the folks on the ground. Steven Hebbard, the Good Soil Developer, invited us to come out and share some music during their volunteer lunch hour. We jumped at the chance to meet these kinfolk and hear their story, first person.

Mike, who has lived on the property for three years, was our unofficial tour guide and told us the history of MLF, as well as, how his own story intertwined with the community. Mike was formerly homeless and his excitement for the community and farm were quite evident. He was kind and very articulate, well versed in agriculture and surprisingly, had a real knowledge of folk music and venues. It was a delight to met him and hear how MLF’s vision gave him a sense of purpose and dignity.

In an article written by Jan Buchholz for the Austin Biz Journal in Feb of this year, Graham states that in the late nineties, he spent about 150 nights sleeping on the streets trying to understand what it is about the homeless lives that had them in this predicament.

It’s not drug problems or mental health problems that precipitated a downward spiral, he said. “It was a profound, catastrophic loss of family.”

That situation could happen to anyone, he added. The most important question became, “How can I bring relief into their life?”

“This was not their dream in life to be homeless. They have the same dreams as you and I,” Graham said.

screen-shot-2014-03-19-at-1-45-09-pmOn our visit we saw the vision coming into focus for The Community First Village with the Genesis Garden producing, Chicken Coop functioning, main kitchen in working order. There was also a creative spirit about the grounds with art displays and splashes color through out the village.

The over all plan will include 60 or so repurposed recreational vehicles as well as a neighborhood of microhomes, which will provide a place for the homeless to regain their bearings. Each will pay rent, depending upon the income they can reasonably produce. There’s a community garden, an arts facility, a medical center and an income-producing community outreach center for showing movies and providing lodging for visitors. The community is gated, so it’s a safe retreat.

If you have a chance to visit Austin, TX be sure to take a Wednesday or Saturday morning to roll over to the Community First Village and Genesis Gardens and lend a helping hand. And, if you are not in the vicinity you can always help with the $7million dollar project by heading over to MLF.org to make a financial donation.

Seems like a large amount but considering Grahams tenacity along with his fellow workers, I don’t doubt that need will be met before they know it.

We’ll be back in Austin Sept-Dec and we can’t wait to reconnect with these kinfolk and get our hand in the dirt!