Today I visited a wonderful place in Austin, Community First! Village. This beautiful 27-acre master planned village was founded by Mobile Loaves and Fishes and is run by a few dozen staff and thousands of volunteers. Their Community Works program provides micro-enterprise opportunities that enable formerly homeless men and women to earn a dignified income, develop new skills and cultivate enduring relationships.
We met “Pastor Dude”, spiritual director Matt Freeman, in front of the Market to begin today’s tour of this amazing community. He began the tour atop the new turf, surrounding the outdoor Cinema Screen set up for free Friday night movie nights that are open to the public. This resourceful community began as a meal delivery ministry, answering God’s call to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It has grown into currently housing 175 (don’t quote me on that) residents in micro-homes or RVs on the property.
This tour really touched me! In 2008 we lost our home and cars and business and we moved our family of 5 plus our dog to three tents in the National Forest in Northern Arizona. I know what it’s like be homeless and vulnerable, scared of what’s next and how we are going to make it. But I don’t know what it’s like to have to live on the streets alone, like most of the residents at Community First! Village know. This community was built to assist some of the chronic homeless people in Central Texas. The primary cause of chronic homelessness is a catastrophic loss of family.
One of the women we met in the Market was brave enough to share her story with us. She had run away from her abusive home the first time when she was 6. The next time was when she was 10, that’s when she met a couple of guys who helped her learn how to hop onto the train cars. She said “They were the first guys who chose to help me without expecting any sexual favors in return.” Then she looked at four men in our tour and said “You men are the biggest predators on the planet.” Her story is a familiar one, especially at this time with all the #metoo in the media.
This 52 year old painter, her micro-business at the village, had been homeless for 40 years before becoming a resident here. She commented how scary it was to trust people and how long it has taken to get used to feeling safe. I can’t image what that would be like.
Community is built into everything here. They face the tiny homes towards each other giving opportunity for residents to greet one another when they come out and sit on their porch. There are several community kitchens on the property. These are beautiful, decked out kitchens with all you would need to cook a great meal. This gives the residents a chance to hang out and cook together, socialize and eat together. It’s a wonderful, beautiful slower pace of life. One that most of us don’t have in our “normal” lives. The pace that reminded Brent and I of our homeless days, when we sat with the kids around the campfire and laughed and talked and ate. It was beautiful!
Matt talked about how the addictions that many homeless deal with are often caused by the separation from family and connection. This reminded me of the Ted talk by Johann Hari where he talks about how community is a cure for addiction because most of the depression that leads to addictions is from the feeling of separation from connection. I completely agree!
We all have addictions; anger, technology, social media, shopping, depression, television, anxiety, complaining, gossiping. The residents are not any different from us! We all want to belong, it’s part of how we are built, it’s a human need to love and connect. When we become a part of something, contribute and grow, we can thrive!!
We can all learn something from this place; spend more time connecting with each other, take the time to greet one another in our daily life, eat a meal with other people and talk, help each other, let people know they are not alone and reach out a helping hand. Change your perspective of the homeless and remember we are all human. When you stop at that red light and see that guy walking towards your car with his cardboard sign, asking for money, roll down your window and shake his hand, look him in the eye and say hello!