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This Texas Homeless Village Inspires California Replicas: Art, Movies, Fishing Pond



California cities looking for homeless solutions are visiting a quirky tiny home village in Austin, Texas. They like what they see, but can they replicate the community it provides? (CalMatters/Jordan Vonderhaar)
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At first glance, Community First! Village looks more like an art commune or even a high-end summer camp than what it really is: Austin’s formidable, 51-acre solution to the homelessness crisis.

Marisa Kendall

Nestled amongst picturesque tiny houses and RVs – home to about 350 formerly unhoused people – are a ceramics studio, an outdoor movie theater and a game room. Quiet, winding roads lead past a pond stocked with catfish, a hydroponic vegetable garden and a yurt visitors can rent on Airbnb. The ashes of 36 former residents are interred in a columbarium on the property.

If you want a souvenir, there’s even a gift shop of sorts – a convenience store that sells hats, infant onesies and other swag branded with the community’s slogan: “Goodness.”

Alan Graham, founder, President and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and Community First! Village, at his desk in Austin, Texas on May 12, 2023. (CalMatters/Jordan Vonderhaar)

“Right up underneath that windmill is where we have the farmer’s market every Saturday morning,” says village founder Alan Graham, CEO of nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes, pointing from a golf cart as he gives a tour of the village. “We have a hair studio here. We got over 300 fruit and nut-bearing trees growing all over the property. This is a big, old pear tree right here. It’s loaded with pears.”

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