Community First! Village Tour
I came across Community First! Village a couple of years ago while researching online, so I was really looking forward to visiting it in person! Knowing that this planned community for the chronically homeless sprouted from Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a christian-based mobile food service for the homeless, was very inspiring – so I made sure this was a pillar stop on my trip. And yet again, I had my mind and expectations blown sky high!
I drove in from the highway, not far from the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and right at the entrance past the welcome sign are the offices for the Community Inn, a resident operated and staffed on-site, tiny house rental business! The business not only provides employment and job skills for residents, but also brings the public into the community so they can see first hand how the village operates!
“As one of the country’s largest tiny house bed-and-breakfast sites, the Community Inn offers eclectic and affordable options for your Austin stay. We invite you to browse our unique variety of vacation rental spaces. Whether you are looking for a night in a distinctive tiny home, a trendy Airstream travel trailer, or a spacious RV, we guarantee you will be able find something that fits your style and tees up the perfect getaway!” — Community Inn Webpage
Here’s a view of some of the tiny houses and trailers available for rent near the entrance of the community, which also back up to the Alamo Draft House outdoor movie screen!
One of the specific tiny houses for rent is a Kasita tiny house, a futuristic connected tiny house that is produced in Austin and can be completely controlled by Amazon’s Alexa device!
These are some of the other tiny houses and trailers we got to see on the walking tour that started next to the outdoor movie amphitheater! Some of them are even themed, like the maroon tiny house trailer below, named Reveille for Texas A&M University!
These are some images of the “Community Cinema,” the outdoor movie amphitheater sponsored by Alamo Drafthouse which features monthly regular screenings of newly release movies and classics!
“Mobile Loaves & Fishes is thrilled to partner with Austin’s iconic Alamo Drafthouse to present the most exciting movie experience in town. The Community Cinema presents FREE SCREENINGS throughout the year – and you’re always invited! We encourage you to come out early to explore Community First! Village before the show begins.
Movie concessions are available through MLF’s onsite food trailers or Community Market, and you’ll be served by our friends who live at Community First! Village. Concession sales and tips help our Community First! neighbors earn a dignified income.” — MLF Webpage
Off to the side of the outdoor theater as several tipis for rent as part of the Community Inn program. Our guide’s son even celebrated a birthday with a handful of his friends in one of these tipis from what he told us.
Further down the path, past the tipis and tiny houses, was a large geodesic dome – which I forgot to ask about, but assume it was used for controlled food production or served as a storage area.
We continued our tour to the general store, where our guide told us more about how he came to be of service at Community First! Village, and more about the mission and goals the community strives for with it’s residents. He also mentioned there are many public services on-site, like mental health, counseling, medical assistance, and some medical services, in addition to a handful of businesses that give the residents a respectable, dignified way to make a living compared to handouts.
“There is a broad range of services available on-site to the residents of Community First! Village, including:
- Full-time behavioral health case managers through Austin Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC)
- Extensive primary healthcare services provided by the Community Care Collaborative
- Home hospice and respite care
- Micro-enterprise business opportunities through Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community Works program
- Regular farmers market to provide residents with healthy, nutritious and free vegetables harvested from the Village’s many gardens”
— MLF Webpage
Inside the general store, one of the staff members gave us an overview of what is sold on-site. She said, while they do serve some snacks, sweets and drinks, most of the products they offer are toiletries, and ingredients/cooking staples so residents can prepare healthier meals themselves. Also offered in the store are Community First! branded shirts, cups and hats, but most importantly are hand-made goods made by the residents themselves!
The products made by the residents are from the metal shop or the woodworking shop, and 100% of the sale goes back to the resident – who is also listed on the product tag so the purchaser knows who made it. The store staff member also told us that most of the sales occur when the public is invited into the community, especially around the holiday season.
Also sold in the store is founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, Alan Graham’s book, ‘Welcome Home
less: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home.’
“Graham wants to engrain the human story in you so deeply that you start being who you were made to be—that you start being like the image from which you were made. In Welcome Homeless, Graham also shares the stories of the homeless, and the stories of those whose worldviews have been shifted by the homeless in a raw, humorous, and honest voice. Home is fundamentally a place of connection and of relationships that are life-giving and foundational, and Graham invites you to make everyone feel truly at home by finally inviting those living on the fringes of society into your heart.” — MLF Webpage
This is a picture from the front of the general store at the central cul de sac and the main community center/office building, Unity Hall.
This is a close-up look of the classic farmers truck in the center cul de sac pointing at the entrance to the residential community, also symbolizing that there’s more than meets the eye and a powerful force behind something most people overlook.
This is the McCoy’s Workshop, where residents learn basic automotive technical job skills and offer detailing services to make a living, which volunteers can take advantage of while they spend their time on-site and can get their cars taken care of for a small fee.
Here’s a better view of the Unity Hall stone-back sign wall in front of the community building.
Along the backside of Unity Hall, we continued our walking tour of the tiny house community – which was positioned around the main road, but the houses themselves were on winding paths in various pockets to help residents interact with each other.
One of the coolest tiny houses that was built this year was the Hempcrete house, a bio-composite made of the inner woody core of the hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder. While the material is not suitable for structural building, it is used for filling in walls for ideal insulation.
Here are a few more of the more recent homes built in the community, many of which have porches to encourage community interaction with neighbors!
Spread out within the community are various community hangout spots, like this one, which feature outdoor games, hammocks and picnic tables to encourage community interaction.
Our tour took us to one of the main outdoor kitchens, which offer more amenities for cooking and running water for residents to prepare meals and interact with each other!
There are even a few tiny houses with roof-top patios and side screened-in sitting areas too!
After we finished touring the tiny houses and outdoor community spaces, we headed to Genesis Gardens, the central farming field with a large chicken coop and several community areas. Our tour also coincided with a garden volunteer day, so there was a lot of action and volunteers running around prepping the gardens. The garden isn’t large enough to produce enough food for the community, but some of the produce is sold on-site a low prices to community residents.
Here’s a view of the garden produce fields and working greenhouse!
From this vantage point in the genesis garden, you can see the other half of the Community First! Village, which serves as an RV park on steroids. All of which are brand new, nothing second hand!
Here’s another view of the gardens looking toward the patriotic windmill and Unity Hall.
As proof I was actually there, one of the guides took a picture of me in the Genesis Gardens.
Along the back side of the gardens are other community areas, like a white stone fire pit and a children’s playground for the handful of children onsite and the volunteers’ children to play on!
We rounded the corner to a central community area on the side of the Genesis Gardens for a stop to talk about some of what was incorporated into this small area. One of those features is the Larry “Taz” Williams Memorial Garden, who was the first resident to move into the community before he died in 2013.
Our guides then stopped and told us about the memorial structure for those that have passed while living in the community. They said that most people, have someone or a family to remember them by, but many of the residents don’t – so they have this option to be memorialized and remembered.
This a a better view of the communal area we were standing in, with the pathway past the memorial tower, swings and play area, fire pit and brick-laid maze. Our main guide even told us one of the residents explained this area as the progression of life, where you start off in the play area as a child, but then progress into adulthood with work, like in the garden, or other trials, like the maze, before you come to a place of community, the fire pit, and then leave this earthly world, the memorial tower.
Also in this community area is the cross of the repentant criminal, a symbol for those who wish to turn their lives around if they had been in certain situations. The bible verse on the plaque is from Luke 23:42-43.
This is a picture of the labyrinth maze, which is kind of hard to see, but any path you take leads to the center. It’s also a theme I’ve seen on my travels across the country!
We walked from the communal area towards the RV park side, passing the life-sized chess board and the big orange tractor the garden manager got out for prepping the garden beds.
Sprinkled among the tiny houses are canvas “glamping” tents that are used for long-term residents or guest house rental spaces. I think these are great ideas to add additional housing into the community, since the homes are designed without bathrooms or running water anyway.
On the RV park side is one of the micro-businesses, a hair studio, which also provides job training and a source of income for participating residents!
A theme throughout the community were street signs like these, promoting positive direction – literally and figuratively!
After we toured one of the RVs, we ended the guided tour, but were permitted to walk around the main entrance of the community for pictures or to return to the general store.
I headed in the direction of my car, but got side tracked by the food service business trailers and trucks that are a part of the Mobile Loaves & Fishes initiative still feeding the hungry homeless in the Austin Area.
Here’s a picture of a covered picnic pavilion for the residents on the RV side of the community!
These are some more pictures of the Mobile Loaves & Fishes trailers, that are now providing more substantial food compared to when they started off with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches!
In addition to the regular Mobile Loaves & Fishes initiative feeding the homeless, Community First! Village also has food trucks for catering events and providing food during movie nights that employs residents and gives them job training!
“Every dollar makes change. Our Community Catering & Concessions program provides opportunities for Community First! residents to earn a dignified income while helping to prepare and deliver meals, treats and refreshments during privately-catered and Village-wide events.
The Community Catering & Concessions family includes the Community Grille, delivering “Honest to Goodness” hamburgers, hot dogs, Frito pies, candy, popcorn, s’mores kits, drinks and other treats for the soul; and the Goodness Grille, for preparing and serving brisket and other carnivore-friendly meals at large events.” — MLF Webpage
My experience at Community First! Village was more than inspiring, knowing where they got their start from delivering food to finding out there’s still growth planned for this $17+ million dollar community in the next few years to accommodate more chronically homeless.
Honestly, I wish I could live there – especially with my loss of community feeling since I left Lost Valley in Oregon.
But having my feet on the ground around people who see the bigger picture, regardless of religious affiliation, understanding that houses don’t solve homelessness – but community does, really gives me hope for models like this in the future applying to groups of people with and without privilege or status.
They truly embrace the phrase, “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.”
- Mobile Loaves & Fishes Webpage
- Mobile Loaves & Fishes Facebook
- Community First! Village Webpage
- Community First! Village Facebook
- Community Inn Webpage
- Welcome Homeless: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home – Amazon
- $60M capital campaign would vastly expand Alan Graham’s community for Austin’s homeless – Austin Business Journal Article
- Tiny Houses in Austin Are Helping the Homeless, but It Still Takes a Village – Austin Curbed Article
- Experience the Goodness of Community First! Village – Do512 Family Article
- Community First! Village Goes Beyond Housing for Austin Homeless – The Austinot Article
- Community First Village provides supportive place to stay for the homeless – KXAN Article
- What’s Next for Austin’s Homeless Population and Community First! Village – Medium Article
- Innovative new East Austin micro-village will rent to homeless for $210 a month – CultureMap Austin Article
- Community First! Unveils Microhomes for the Chronically Homeless – The Austin Chronicle Article