$2M grant awarded to help homeless population

A $2 million grant was announced today with the hopes of helping the growing downtown Austin homeless population.

The Downtown Austin Alliance announced Thursday that a $2 million grant will be awarded to Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

The plan is to use the money to expand the Community First! Village, which houses dozens of people who were formerly homeless.

"Y'all, come on in,” said Tracey, a resident at Community First! Village. "This is my place."

Tracey is proud to show the home she’s lived in now for a few months.

"They offered me a hand up, instead of feeling like I had nowhere to go,” said Tracey. "These people ultimately gave me a chance for success"

She’s one of the many who live in the community now but used to be homeless.

"I was living under bridges, in the woods,” said Tracey. "I started from nothing, come from really kind of a broken state."

Now that she’s back on her feet, she said she’s able to repair once strained family relationships.

"Everything in my place is stuff my family held onto,” said Tracey.

Alan Graham, the founder, President and CEO of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, said they created the village last year to help provide housing and support for homeless men and women.

"We believe very profoundly that the single greatest cause to homelessness, is a profound, catastrophic loss of family,” said Graham. "We have a phrase in mobile loaves and fishes that housing will never solve homelessness, but community will.”

He said they take applicants from all kinds of people, but try to cater not to families, but instead to single men and women.

"I did not want to ignore my friends that are on the street corners,” said Graham.

Graham and his wife of 33 years live in the community now.

"We love this community so much,” said Graham. "It's incredible how you know all of your neighbors."

Now, they plan to expand that community with a $2 million grant from the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Dewitt Peart is the President and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance.

"Homelessness is a major challenge our city faces," said Peart. 

According to ECHO -- the Ending Community Homeless Coalition --- the "unsheltered" homeless population in Austin has increased 25 percent in the last two years, and 50 percent in Downtown Austin alone.

"The community, the neighborhood Alan is creating here is really an important part of helping solve the challenges around unsheltered homelessness," said Peart. “This is a step towards helping solve some of those problems."

He said members of the community, businesses and individuals can help fix the growing problem.

"The mayor has proposed some funding solutions to help on this, that's from the public sector side, what we're saying is that the private sector can play a role here too,” said Peart. "What we're doing is making this investment and saying to other private sector leaders, follow us.”

Right now, the village has 240 homes and can house about 275 people.

Graham said this money will build a few new homes as part of their larger $20 million expansion project that will add 350 more shelters.

"To have the homeless have a place to live, and are safe, really takes a lot of pressure off of our social service providers, so the number of EMS calls, the number of police calls, and that are responding to conditions on our streets,” said Peart.

"This is impressive on so many levels because this isn't a handout for individuals in need, this is a hand up,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. “The is an opportunity for people to come out here, live in affordable housing, to regain the dignity that any human being should be allowed, and to have a roof over their head and to live in a safe community."

Manley said this can help everyone in Austin.

"When you can house 200 plus people at community first village that otherwise would likely be on the streets of Austin, that absolutely lessons the demand for police services,” said Manley. "Things like this definitely reduce the call load for the police department, but more importantly, there are hundreds of people that are getting their lives back, that are getting the hand up that they need, so they can get back on their feet and be productive members of society."

He calls this project monumental.

"This was all done by community leaders, by folks that saw a need they jumped in and they filled the gaps," said Manley.

It can be called monumental for the city, and for people like Tracey.

"I just see life in a whole different light,” said Tracey. "I have so much, I have so much value, and  before I had no self-worth, and I just have so much to offer now."

Graham invites anyone to tour the Community First! Village if they would like to volunteer.

You can find more information here.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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