Is Community First the Solution to Homelessness in America?


The Vision:

To feed, clothe, house, and most importantly, restore dignity to homeless people through economic empowerment and by providing income opportunities.

Organization Description:

Community First is a self sustaining homeless community initiative started by Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF). MLF is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization based out of Austin, Texas started by Alan Graham. MLF began in 1997 when five parishioners of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Austin, Texas began delivering meals out of the back of a minivan to men and women they found living on the streets. MLF started delivering food and clothing to the homeless with one truck in 1998. Since then, their teams of volunteers have served meals & clothing with a side of hope to the homeless and working poor on the streets of Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Providence, Rhode Island; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. MLF has served over 4 million meals, and with the support of more than 18,000 volunteers, making them the largest prepared feeding program to the homeless and working poor in Austin.

Community First Village

Today, in addition to continuing their truck ministry, MLF has expanded to include their Community First program. Community First Village is a 27 acre parcel of land in Texas that consists of micro-homes and recreation vehicles which provides housing for over 200 people. The village has a medical facility, church, geodesic hydroponic garden, farm, art studio, wood & blacksmith shop, beekeeping farm, meditation area and an outdoor amphitheater. The community first residents are are taught or allowed to rediscover skills and provided income opportunities so they can become productive members of the community. Although this a charity based initiative, once on their feet, each resident is expected to pay their way, which includes rent on the homes they occupy.

Micro-Enterprise Program

The MLF Micro-Enterprise Program provides the homeless with dignified income opportunities. The Workshop empowers homeless people to pursue timeless crafts, and helps them earn a reliable income stream. Through blacksmithing, woodworking and most everything in between, the residents of Community First are engaged in a new, restorative journey toward social contribution, financial stability, and a mastery of handcrafting skills. Their craftsmen and artists receive 100% of the profit from product sales, art shows, and volunteer education events, allowing them to become a stable part of Community First Village.

The Art House

MLF Art House also seeks to provide homeless artists with dignified income opportunities. The program creates jobs for artists who would otherwise be on the streets. The Art House provides art opportunities to a unique, highly talented group of artists from the streets. Housed in a refurbished RV home, the Art House provides a safe and supportive environment that fosters healing and creative expression for those involved. The Art House promotes the production and assists with the sales of the artwork resulting in increased confidence and enhanced skills providing dignified income opportunities for the homeless artists.

MLF street-treats-robert

Street Treats

As part of their micro-enterprise program, MLF also offers Street Treats. Street Treats is a mobile vending operation where their homeless friends can earn an income selling ice cream, chips, soda and water at local festivals and community events. All profits and tips go directly to the vendor.

Community Firsts Impact

Homelessness is growing problem and unfortunately most of us turn a blind eye to it. This is partly due to the fact that aside from charities, there’s not been many actionable solutions put forth for homelessness. Alan Graham and friends have come up with a viable solution to homelessness and it’s working. Many of the homeless are our veterans or people who have fallen on hard times and just need a helping hand to get back on their feet. Food, water, clothing and shelter are the most basic human needs and yet there are millions of people around the world that do not even have what most of us take for granted.

It is important to note that Mobile Loaves & Fishes scored 100% for transparency and accountability and 98% overall rating from Charity Navigator, a charity rating service. What is most impressive about Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Community First is they’re offering true compassion by not only providing basic needs to the homeless, but by transforming them into productive members of society again. Charity has done amazing things but it often perpetuates more of the same conditions and doesn’t always address the underlying issues at the root of the problem.  It can also result in further dependency. True compassion is identifying and nurturing the potential in someone and then empowering them to be independent and become the best version of themselves that they can be.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” – Maimonides

How You Can Help

Please share this article. By doing so you not only raise awareness for this worthy cause, but a social share may connect with and inspire another person to create a similar organization in another part of the country or world. Remember, positive deeds are contagious.

To learn more about Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Community First, please visit their website.