Community First! Village receives $35K donation to continue working to house chronically homeless

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — City staff delivered a snapshot on homelessness in Austin on Tuesday. 

Among several recommendations, the housing strategy office wants to promote an idea that’s seen success in the past: an incentive program for landlords to house people currently living on the streets. 

Those might include reimbursements for application expenses and damage claims, ponying up security deposits and utility assistance or even leasing bonuses. 

It’s something the city tried a few years ago for veterans. And in 2016, the city declared an end to veteran homelessness. Private donors stepped forward and established a fund to help pay for that. City staff said Austin needs more private dollars to match public money. 

KXAN also heard a commitment from the Austin Chamber of Commerce that it will leverage its partners to bring more private dollars to the table. Staff also reviewed the idea KXAN reported on Monday: converting motels and hotels to “bridge housing” for folks until more permanent supportive housing can be found.

While city officials won’t talk real estate deals, they did say funding for that would come from the expansion of the Waller Creek Tax Increment Financing District that council approved last year. The mayor says that will generate about $30 million. 

They also said the city would also like continued state help when it comes to transition efforts from incarceration and foster care as well as mental health services. The state is fanning out to post resources under bridges and overpasses ahead of a camping sweep coming Monday. 

But there’s also been a model to end homelessness in east Austin that has proven effective for several years. On Tuesday, it also received a substantial boost: $35,000 was donated to the Community First! Village, a non-profit that provides resources and a sense of community to the chronically homeless. 

It’s this unique approach that’s led people to donating millions of dollars since its opening four years ago.

Providing a family

“This organization seems to have found a way to bring it all together nicely,” said Amy Brandt, the president and CEO of Docutech, a company which jointly donated to the organization. 

“We gave the money and we trust the organization to put it in the right place,” said Dawn Douglass, Chief Information Officer for Volly, who partnered with Docutech to help provide the funding. 

“We lifted up a couple hundred [people] here and we’re going to lift up 300 more on phase two,” said Teresa Wilbanks, the Development Manager for Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the nonprofit which operates the village. 

With shovels in the dirt on another 24 acres of permanent housing — the mission of “Community First!” pushes forward with phase two. 

It’s expected to be complete within three years. It will add 100 RV homes, 200 microhomes and other unique housing options. The Community First! Village should have utilities for the new phase up and running by March. 

“It’s just really gratifying to see some of the most fragile on the streets have a place to live and resources to help them,” Brandt said. 

Mobile Loaves and Fishes does this mostly through private donations. Last year, nearly $20 million of contributions and grants were funneled into the effort. 

Wilbanks said the reason this strategy is so effective is in the name: Community first. She said ending chronic homelessness is more than just providing housing. It’s about fostering a sense of purpose and belonging with others. 

“We provide community, comfort, security, dignified income for those that want to work here and just basically family that they don’t have,” Wilbanks said. 

To live here, it’s simple: Pay rent, don’t break the law and follow community rules. They’ll accept everyone who’s not a convicted sex offender. As the city searches for solutions, the non-profit’s leaders say this is what works. 

“Housing won’t solve homelessness, but community will,” Wilbanks said. 

While this housing method has proven successful, it’s admittedly not for everybody. The non-profit’s leaders say some people don’t want to live in a group setting. Others suffering from mental health issues may also find it hard to adhere to community rules. 

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