$1.6 million donation helps local nonprofit helping people who are formerly homeless

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TRAVIS COUNTY (KXAN) -— Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit that operates Community First! Village in east Austin received a $1.6 million donation to build its new “Community Works Entrepreneur Hub.”

Community First! Village is home to 182 people who used to be homeless. The nonprofit rents out tiny homes at an affordable rate, but they take it one step further and provide services on-site, as well as job opportunities.

They call them “micro-enterprise opportunities,” and the jobs range from gardening, art and blacksmithing, to car care and screen printing.

Community First! Village helps men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. (Mobile Loaves and Fishes Photo)

“Our goal is to try to get people what we call a dignified income,” said Alan Graham, Founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. “That allows them to live in a community like this, pay their rent, have transportation, cover their medical expenses and clothing and go out to eat a couple times a month, and believe it or not, that’s about $1,200 a month.”

With the donation, the nonprofit will build an 8,000 sq. ft. building. Graham said, “We want to be able to initiate next year, we hope, an online presence to sell products.” The products could range from hats and t-shirts screen printed by their residents to artwork.

Donation from Paul Mitchell co-founder’s foundation

Mobile Loaves and Fishes said $1.6 million is the largest single gift ever received. It came from John Paul DeJoria’s charitable foundation – JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation.

“Being homeless before in my life, I know what it’s like to be without a place to live,” DeJoria said. He’s a co-founder of hair care company Paul Mitchell, which he said he started with $700.

“I’m paying back the planet for all the goodness it gave me by helping those that are in the same situation that I was in,” he said.

A model that works

Community First! Village helps men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. (Mobile Loaves and Fishes Photo)

“It wasn’t until I came here that I found the space to move from just surviving to thriving,” said Earth Drum. He’s one of about 180 people currently living at Community First! Village.

While not all participate in the jobs programs, for those who do, Earth Drum said, it provides valuable opportunities.

“I see the difference this place makes,” he said. “They don’t just give you a place to live, and it’s not a handout. There’a minimal affordable rent that we pay, but it’s more than that.”

He explained, when you’re homeless, you lose not just what you own, but also, “it’s a catastrophic loss of connection and family.”

At Community First! Village, he said he found “job opportunities, training opportunities, friends and connections and healthy social opportunities.”

As the City of Austin searches for ways to reduce the number of people who are homeless, Graham said, “I think [our model is] one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, but it’s not only important piece to the puzzle we have in the city.”

He said reducing homelessness requires money, time and work by the government, other nonprofits, businesses and people.

“I think it’s taken us to get in here, and I think it’s going to take us at least a decade to get out,” he said.

Earth Drum said, “I would love to see the city embrace what’s working, and if you come visit this place and you see this place works.”

Community First! Village helps men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. (Mobile Loaves and Fishes Photo)

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