Few things translate into all cultures and backgrounds. Homelessness is one of them. No matter the country, there are people living in the streets. What varies is how communities try to deal with the issue.

In Austin, Alan Graham has spent decades feeding and housing the destitute with Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the organization he founded. Today Graham will be named Citizen of the Year by the Austin Chamber of Commerce. And while you may not have heard his name, chances are you’ve heard one of his most well-known prescriptions for homelessness – building communities of tiny houses for the disabled and chronically homeless.

Image credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

The interior of one of the tiny homes at the Community First! Village.

Graham describes his Community First! project as a “27-acre master planned RV park on steroids.” But what sets it apart from any other RV park, Graham says, is something less tangible than just housing.

“The extra bump is centered around the idea of community,” Graham says. “We believe very profoundly that the single greatest cause to homelessness in this country is a profound, catastrophic loss of family.”

The goal of the project isn’t just to get the homeless off the streets and into their own private dwellings, but to build a sense of community. The village includes amenities such as an amphitheater, medical clinic, market and other common areas.

“It’s just this place that draws people out of their tiny homes,” Graham says. “Because right now, we’re building communities, really, in the United States that are isolating people inside of our homes. What we’re doing is trying to reverse that trend by drawing people outside.”

Image credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Ellis Johnston hugs Mobile Loaves & Fishes founder and president Alan Graham at the ground-breaking ceremony of tiny home village in 2014.

Even though Graham’s model is attracting attention – he says people have contacted him wanting to visit Austin to see the project, and Buzzfeed even wrote an article about it – Graham says there’s still hurdles to clear in making projects like Community First! a widespread force in reducing homelessness. One of the biggest obstacles Graham cites is the “not-in-my-backyard” mentality.

“I think the bigger challenge, and one of the five goals of Mobile Loves and Fishes as a corporate entity is to transform the paradigm as to how people view the stereotype of the homeless,” he says. “How do we get people to say, ‘Welcome, yes in my backyard’?”

Image credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

One of the tiny home options in the Austin village is a tent home.

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  • Ava McBride January 6, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    This is simply fantastic. I currently work at a domestic violece shelter in Kentucky and I am looking for different ptions to house some of the men who are our clients. We usually just set them up in a hotel but the downside is that they don’t recieve the same types of services as the actual women in the shelter. If someone could contact me to brainstorm ideas on how to make a small version of this happen here, I would be forever gratedul.

  • Marla March 6, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    How do does a person apply for one of these homes?

    • Laura Rice March 7, 2016 at 8:35 am

      Hi Marla, I’d suggest anyone interested in how to apply should reach out to Mobile Loaves and Fishes directly: http://mlf.org/

  • Toni February 27, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Such a friggin wonderful creative idea .

  • michael sam February 23, 2016 at 1:29 am

    Keep up the great work. Would love to see this program expand and grow.

  • Debi February 8, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    I love this idea

  • Debi February 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Every community that has homeless living in trees and under bridges need this community.

  • Jesse Salinas February 6, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    love it, how do i get involved?

  • Mindy February 5, 2016 at 5:27 am

    Some people in this world need help. One simple caring human being ,with the help of others has proven that it’s possible to give dignity and shelter to the homeless. What great honor it is to give and receive among each other. What a great humanitarian effort.

  • LARRY PALMER February 5, 2016 at 12:06 am

    I think it’s a great idea having been homeless myself and whether people want to see it or not it’s already in they’re backyard or soon will be!##

  • Liz Phelan February 4, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    I am my brothers keeper. Be kind. Love one another.

  • Wendy February 4, 2016 at 10:42 am

    It is TRULY a privilege living here in a community that is intentional in taking care of each other and being a safe place to live! Hopefully this model will catch on around the country and the world!!

  • Angie Finegan February 4, 2016 at 1:29 am

    It’s awesome idea and I give him a lot of credit for his sincere heart ♡