Homeless community includes garden, drive-in theater

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by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and Photojournalist SCOTT GUEST

kvue.com

Posted on November 11, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 11 at 11:52 PM

AUSTIN -- KVUE got a first look at a new community for the homeless that is being built in East Austin. The Community First Village is paid for entirely with private money and will sit on 27 acres near Hog Eye Road and Decker Lane, east of U.S. Highway 183.

Organizers say it's just the beginning of a plan to get hundreds of homeless men and women off Austin's streets and into their own homes.

The project has the support of Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a number of local business leaders who believe it will offer what the homeless need most: a chance to get back on their feet.

Community First Village looks more like a tidy RV campground than a way to house the homeless. On Monday organizers unveiled a small part of the project, a concept Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes has been planning for nine years. Mobile Loaves and Fishes serves meals to the homeless.

“It will be a gated community who's access is limited to the residents and their registered invited guests,” Graham said.

Graham adds that those who move in will pay rent and work. Some will use street vending carts to make a living.

“We also have a giant wood shop where people are very gifted and talented in building things. So we want to empower people into a purposeful cultivating lifestyle of working,” said Graham.

The village will include a mix of RV’s, wooden guest houses and other affordable housing options.  There's also a place for worship, a community garden and a medical center to provide mental health and social services.

“Above all the projects in Austin that are trying to face the challenge of homelessness, this is the most unique. And I think it's going to be the biggest impact,” said founder of Alamo Drafthouse Tim League.

He says being a part of the neighborhood is important to making this project work. That's why the Village will also have an air stream motel and vintage drive-in movie theater.

“It's going to do public screenings, and it's going to be a cool asset not just to this project but to Austin,” League said.

If the Community First Village is a success, it could mean changes downtown.

“This project is an opportunity if it can flourish and grow to remove the ARCH from downtown,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Some of those business owners say aggressive panhandlers, many homeless, frighten away customers. They believe moving the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) will boost business.

“The first bite, about 20 percent of Austin's homeless, are going to be taken off the streets of Austin. That's a huge change, but it has the potential to be much bigger than that,” Mayor Leffingwell said.

The project costs about $6.5 million. So far Mobile Loaves and Fishes has raised about half of the money it needs.

Graham hopes to start building the entire Village next April and could start moving people in by the start of 2015.

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