Austin: A Lesson in How to Address Needs of Homeless Individuals & An Important Action in Santa Fe

Perhaps the most inspiring 2 days of the trip has been in Austin. Many lessons for how to truly engage and support formerly chronically homeless folks. Also a call to action at the City Council Wednesday. Call, email, attend.

Today’s post includes a detailed summary of our visit to the Austin Community First! Village, which to us represents the manifestation of what can be done when a community expands its vision and makes equity the priority in decisions about how to use key resources. Coincidentally, the City of Santa Fe is at a decision point as to whether it wants to slow its SFUAD process and incorporate the perspective of folks who have been omitted from the process to date.  Read on.  FYI–Today we leave San Antonio and will arrive in Las Cruces, NM tonight!

Expand Outreach & Input on Santa Fe University of Art & Design. City Council Decision Time. Wed.Aug 8, 5:30pm. City Hall. 200 Johnson St. Councilor Villarreal introduced amendments to the SFUAD process to expand outreach and input from communities that were not consulted in the process to date. If we are to be a truly unified community, we need to do more than hear from the same folks who attend all the meetings. We create an echo chamber of consensus that omits over half of our community. Please, even if you can’t make the meeting, contact information for your City Councilor and your Mayor are at the bottom of today’s post.

Read the amendments HERE  Read the Santa Fe New Mexican article HERE  For more information on the meeting and the issues at stake, click here for a blog from last week.

Dark Money, CCA, 6pm Thursday, Aug 9. Please join Ethics Watch for a sneak preview of the movie, Dark Money, at the CCA at 6 pm this Thursday, August 9, and for the following reception and short talk with Ann Ravel. We think you will enjoy the movie and talk by Ann Ravel, who is in the film, and I think you will be interested to learn more about New Mexico Ethics Watch, given your commitment to getting money out of politics.   Tickets are available from

Austin Community First! Village: An Inspiring Example of How Five People Can Make a Difference…And NOT a Small Difference

Mobile Loaves & Fishes began when five parishioners of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Austin, Texas were inspired by their faith to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Alan Graham and his friends began delivering meals out of the back of a minivan to men and women they found living on the streets. Graham readily admits that the group’s original approach for serving the homeless had some flaws, but with the help of a formerly homeless man they perfected the model that Mobile Loaves & Fishes successfully uses today. It is worth noting that the original impulse by his original group of five, expended to be known as the ‘six pack’ received critical input from the impacted community to refine their approach. Here is hoping that the Santa Fe City Council sees the wisdom of consulting with those who have yet to be included in its visioning effort related to the Santa Fe University of Art & Design.
That initial effort by five folks began in September 1998 by handing out peanut and jelly sandwiches from the back of a minivan. It has evolved and grown to where Loaves & Fishes volunteers have served now more than 5 million meals with a side of hope to homeless men and women living on the streets. Delivering more than a sandwich, Mobile Loaves & Fishes volunteers hit the streets 7 nights a week, 365 days a year to provide food, clothing, hygiene products and other life-sustaining items to our homeless neighbors who are struggling to survive.
And they didn’t stop there. Realizing that a sandwich and supplies was not leading to any kind of substantive relief, Loaves and Fishes decided to develop a permanent community for chronically homeless individuals and they didn’t think small.
Beginning in 2014 they began planning a development that was not just housing. Today, just four years later, Community First! Village is a 27-acre master planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for 240 disabled, chronically homeless individuals. A development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, this transformative residential program exists to love and serve neighbors who have been living on the streets, while also empowering the surrounding community into a lifestyle of service with the homeless. Community First! Village includes:
  • An innovative mix of affordable housing options
  • Memorial garden, columbarium and prayer labyrinth
  • Places for worship, study and fellowship
  • Medical facility for health screenings, and other support services including hospice and respite care
  • Walking trails
  • Community gardens
  • Outdoor movie theater
  • Community market
  • Bed & breakfast for overnight visits where Roxanne and I stayed last weekend
  • Capital Metro bus stop
  • WiFi
The surrounding neighborhood was not initially very welcoming and Loaves and Fishes had to fight to overcome the NIMBY response. But, over time the neighbors came to know their new neighbors and relationships developed. They also appreciated the political leverage resulting from a voting block of people who are not afraid to raise their voices and vote. Public transportation came to the area, along with sidewalks. Neighboring residents are now active as volunteers and instead of opposing the Village, they are active supporters of the next phase, addition of another 380 homes on an adjoining property that is bought and paid for. Truly, what these folks have done in just 4 years boggles the mind.
As we learned on a two hour tour of the resulting development, Community First! was not just a name, it was a philosophy. Indeed the Village philosophy is shaped by the understanding that what individuals who have been homeless for many years need most, is not housing, it is community and so every effort is made to make entry into the Village, not just accessing housing, but joining community.
We were told that the average length of life on the street of those living at Community First! was 20 years, i.e. they were not working with the easy to serve. Their process is sensitive to the human aspect of homelessness from the first effort to engage. They reach out to homeless individuals on the street; they talk with them, exchange names and handshakes; they create human to human contact and they begin a normalization process, the establishment of trusting human relationships, something that needs to learned by people who have lived on the streets for 20 years.
When Loaves and Fishes staff or volunteers ask people if they are interested in coming to Community First!, they ask if they want to become part of a community, a permanent community, one where every person there–volunteers or residents–has an abiding respect for the humanity of each individual. Volunteers or staff work 1-1 with each prospective resident. They identify if they have any benefits that they receive or could receive (Vet benefits, disability, SSI, etc.) and they determine what kind of ‘job’ they may be able to do at the site to earn a dignified salary. As we toured the village we saw an auto shop, iron works shop, a wood working shop, a catering operation, a farm, a hair salon, and their community movie theater. And all this, developed in just 4 years.
Those interested in moving into the Village do not just get assigned a ‘tiny house,’ they choose their tiny house. They select a home that meets their needs. their potential ‘income’ does play a part in their selection of housing as Tiny Homes rent for between $200 a month for the kind of Tiny Home in which Roxanne and I stayed, to $600 a month for these amazingly comfy brand new RVs, complete with kitchen shower, sink, toilet and TV.
The Tiny Homes are all built by community volunteers, sometimes assisted by residents. The homes all have unique features with all including community facing porches, but with different features in the home. No one lives at Community First! for free. They either work at one of the many businesses launched at the Village or they do custodial work on the commons or in the farm. In the work they find not just work, but human dignity. They are supporting themselves for the first time in many years.

The community garden, Genesis Gardens is far more than just a garden. It allows neighbors from all over Austin to come together to roll up their sleeves and engage with Community First! residents, practice hospitality, recall what it means to put down roots, and share the abundance of the garden’s yields. The produce from the garden is washed, bunched, canned, pickled, preserved or cooked and provided to neighbors throughout the Village — giving them direct and free access to the best vegetables on Earth!  The farm at Community First! Village features:

  • More than 3 acres of organic vegetable production
  • Hundreds of fruit and nut-bearing trees
  • Dairy goats, chickens, rabbits, donkeys and honeybees
  • Geodome and aquaponics system

The Community Art House provides a means through which our highly creative artists at Community First! produce and sell some of the best works of art in Austin. The art program provides a safe and supportive environment that fosters healing and creative expression for our formerly homeless friends. Mobile Loaves & Fishes partners with our Community First! artists to assist with the promotion and sale of their artwork, supporting their efforts to earn a dignified income through the beautiful use of their long suppressed talents.

The design of the Tiny Homes intentionally fosters community and serves to prevent isolation. Tiny Homes have microwaves and fridges but do not have water. Each small cluster of Tiny Homes has a centralized building with lockable restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities and they are immaculately maintained. Each cluster has a common kitchen and barbecue and the equipment is top of the line, as are the furnishings in each Tiny Home. Each detail is meant to convey: you are a valued person; your home is not filled with donated, frayed furnishings and your kitchen it top of the line.
Once they have picked a place, they then go through a welcoming ceremony with other residents coming to celebrate their arrival. Also included at the welcoming are the volunteers who together built the Tiny House and the welcoming includes food, song and prayer.

The map below is of CommunityFirst! This site is roughly 1/3 the size of the Santa Fe University Art & Design. Kinda makes the mind swirl with the possibilities.  To be clear, we are not saying that this, or any model from another community can or should be exported wholesale to Santa Fe, but a development such as the Village should inform our thinking and open our minds to what is possible–a good reason to slow the process and open the process to new ideas that may be more responsive to the needs of underserved and under-heard communities.  So please plan to come to the Wednesday night City Council meeting and raise your voice in support of Councilor Villarreal’s amendment to create an aggressive outreach process to obtain input from communities and populations who were not part of the SFUAD process to date. To read more, click here and you can take a visual tour of this remarkable community initiative.

Contact Information.  Even if you can’t make the meeting on Wednesday, calls and emails will have an impact.

Below is contact information on all the City Council members and our Mayor.

Mayor Alan Webber:  (505) 955-6590.
 Again, it’s important that we thank Councilors Villarreal, Ives, and Abeyta for pushing through these crucial amendments to show that we support this move.

Join us at City Council and pack the room in support of these amendments and for equitable planning in Santa Fe!

WEDNESDAY AUGUST 8 5:30 PM8,C ity Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave8, Santa Fe, NM

Categories: Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development, Local-State Government & Legislation, Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform

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1 reply

  1. Gah! They don’t understand why a big segment of the population does not engage. Of course they would not, they do not understand how their condescending, fact resistant attitudes would deter people from engaging. When these groups engaged in the past, they were ignored, belittled and endangered. It is much safer to keep their heads down, and avoid unwanted attention. We have 2 realities here in Santa Fe, the Mayor and City Council are still in the reality where things work as designed. They remain insulated, and clueless.
    In general people know when they are being patronized, condescended to, or have to override a conflicting false narrative. It is like communicating with Pod People. That lot tend to regurgitate things they heard repeated in some Neo Liberal, religious, or local paper, narrative of the plight of the disenfranchised. In order to communicate with them, there would have to be a shared objective reality. There is none.

    Here we go with the Tiny Houses again. This exemplifies the problem. Of course Tiny Houses are better than sleeping on the street, but they are not really a “Solution.” None of our City Counselors or our Mayor have set foot in a Public Housing Project. They are incapable of understanding those dynamics. None of them have an inkling of how these projects started out, and how they have diverged from the original intentional design.

    Many of the “Disenfranchised” are proud people. They worked hard all of their lives and due to the Neo- Liberal world order have nothing to show for it. They might be the Grandparents who bailed out their grandchildren a few too many times. The For profit Courts took full advantage of family ties There are families that lost everything because of a sick family member. The system took full advantage there too, using up their insurance and Medicare, which barely covers the medical care. Some of these people invested in Education for their children, who have left the state. Now they can barely maintain their homes, do without heat in the Winter, and would never lower themselves to beg for charity.

    The lower income folks are taught to blame themselves, and many do not identify with the “Poor.’ People one paycheck away from destitution, tend to identify with the overlords. The minimum wage employee, that told me the reason he could only get 30 hours a week, was because the “minimum wage went up” The guy, is a single parent, supporting a child on minimum wage, but he was more concerned about his employers bottom line. There is no alternative media here, and the news they are exposed to, runs a constant false narrative blaming the poor. It is so pervasive people don’t notice.

    When they do cover the statistics there is always a qualifier, or a counter narrative. Local News also deliberately misrepresents the “Services” available. They make it sound as if poverty is a choice, after all the community is so generous, giving away “Free Stuff.” Every day there is a fund raiser, charity event and they are really hyped in the local papers. All of this publicity is meant to offset the fact that the profiteers don’t pay any Taxes. The highly publicized “Give Back” corporate advertising is working. They can pay for advertising ties ins that are a tiny percentage of what they would have paid in taxes. They get a local “journalist” to place a wonderful articles, that serves as Misinformation and cheap advertising. Then everyone can get lulled into complacency again.

    The Tiny House concept will be another well meaning but essentially humiliating situation. It will look good from the outside as intended. Around here there is no reason to provide free anything if the subjects are not humiliated or constantly reminded of their place in the system. It helps too if the subjects are open to religious conversion, proselytizing, and faith based nonsense. It does not look like it will be a step out of poverty. It will simply be warehousing some poor people, while the do gooders put it on their resumes or post selfies to social media.

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