AUSTIN, Texas — On Wednesday, Mobile Loaves and Fishes held a press conference announcing big steps in its Ten Year Plan to Mitigate Homelessness in Austin – a major expansion at its Community First! Village.
The village is a 51-acre, master-planned development in northeast Travis County designed for men and women who are coming out of chronic homelessness.
A picture-perfect life is what most of us want, but it's something that seemed out of reach for Ute Dittemer and her husband after losing their jobs during the economic bust of 2008.
"We were not able to pay rent anymore," she said. "We were just lost, you know? That was the end of having a home, so we became homeless ... so I started to make nativity scenes, which, like this little one here, they sell very well. And then I make this chess game, which they made a book out of, a little booklet, about the history of my chess game."
Her art opened up an opportunity to live at Community First!, a safe place where the chronically homeless get off the streets and get to work.
It's been life-changing for many, like Tim Shea.
"When they broke ground in 2016, I think ... I was one of the first people to move in," he said. "I've had a lifetime of addiction, drug use. You know, it used to be nothing, no property, nothing, would mean anything to me if I couldn't put it in my arm. You know, and now I value all of that."
Shea went from living on the streets to having a home of his own.
"I'm actually the first person in America to move into a 3D-printed home," he said.
Alan Graham spearheaded this project. He wanted a place that wasn't just about giving the homeless a place to live but helping them create a life, a community, a sense of self-worth.
"We're here to pour fuel on those little boy and girl embers that are in there, to find the artist, the ceramicist, the silk screener," he said. "The laborer who loves coming out here and creating beauty are my neighbors across the street right here. My buddy, J.P., who's responsible for all of the bluebonnets that are growing on this property that are exploding, really beautiful, that's what we're here to do."
It has blossomed and continues to grow. Community First! is adding hundreds of more homes, creating opportunities and changing lives.
"For the first time in my life, I have a car," said Dittemer. "I never had a car before ... but we have a car. We have a home, we have a cat and, yeah, a pretty much normal life."
It's a picture of hope in a city where, despite the success, so many still struggle to make ends meet.
"No matter what you see out there on the street corners and underneath our bridges and in our medians, which we understand, there's hope and we're here to build hope for this city," said Graham.
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