Expansion and impact: Austin’s Community First! Village strengthens fight against homelessness

Anna-Kay Reeves

With the Drag bordering the West end of campus, Austin homelessness is an issue Longhorns do not miss. 

Homelessness is a problem in Austin. However, unlike many urban areas, Austin has an innovative approach to solving this issue. The Community First! Village at 9301 Hog Eye Road is a permanent housing community for formerly homeless individuals. 

Communications director Thomas Aitchison said unlike many organizations that work to alleviate homelessness, Community First! Village treats the causes of homelessness rather than just its effects. 

“Homelessness is the result of a traumatic loss in a person’s life, whether that’s the death of a family member, or the total absence of family from a person’s life,” Aitchison said.

Though addiction and mental illness can play a role in homelessness, those issues are generally contributing factors rather than causes, Aitchison said. 

“Every person needs to be known and loved,” Aitchison said. “That’s what we do. We take people and give them that fellowship that has been lacking in their life, and through that they can transform.”

As a faith-based organization, Community First! Village is driven by a core set of Christian values. 

“For us, this is what loving your neighbor means,” Aitchison said. “We don’t require a profession of faith to live in the community, but we do encourage our friends here to think about faith. For us, that’s where ultimate healing is found.”

What makes the Community First! Village project unique is that it’s not a transitional aid project. Residents can stay in the tiny homes and trailers that Community First! Village offers for the rest of their lives, Aitchison said.

The project is in the midst of a three-year expansion which will take their capacity up to around 500 — that’s 25 percent of Austin’s homeless population. 

For many in the Austin area who interact with the homeless population, Community First! Village’s approach to solving the homelessness problem makes perfect sense. 

Tivon Spears, a bouncer at The Local Pub & Patio bar on Guadalupe, said he is confronted by the reality of chronic homelessness often in the men and women who eat, sleep and panhandle on the Drag. 

“The majority of the people hanging out here are good people who fell on tough times,” Spears said. “They ask for food and just want to talk, because they don’t have anyone that’s there for them.”

Treating homelessness at the source is only logical, because as plants need good soil to grow, people need a strong community before they can succeed, Spears said. 

For the formerly homeless who have found their family in Community First! Village, the change has been radical and impactful. 

According to Community First! Village’s website interview with resident Charlie, living in the Community First! Village has given him a new definition of home. 

When illness put Charlie out of work, he found himself homeless and without support. After hearing talk of Community First! Village from others dealing with homelessness, Charlie was able to find a place in the community.

“In the early years of my life, home wasn’t now what I know home can be,” Charlie said. “What I’ve found here is that home is a place where there’s people of all different types and characters. They love me and I love them. You know you’re home.”