An Engineering Project of Biblical Proportions

Last Tuesday, the tenth grade engineering classes took a field trip to Community First!, a program designed to help get the chronically homeless off the streets with inexpensive and sustainable housing. The program is backed by Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a social outreach ministry that helps the chronically homeless by providing them with food, work, shelter, and a community of support.

Many people become chronically homeless because of a loss of family, which eliminates the resources they need to support themselves. Community First! works to restore these caring connections and do what Alan Graham calls “wrapping our community in a family of care,” with activities such as gardening, woodworking and raising livestock like chickens and rabbits.

Many people become chronically homeless because of a loss of family, which eliminates the resources they need to support themselves. Community First! works to restore these caring connections and do what Alan Graham calls “wrapping our community in a family of care,” with activities such as gardening, woodworking and raising livestock like chickens and rabbits.

Our tour was given by the Mobile Loaves & Fishes CEO, Alan Graham, who showed us around the model of the 27 acre area where Community First! intends to build their master plan community, which will include a garden, medical center, church, chicken coop, and space to house two hundred people.

The Genesis Gardens grow a variety of produce, from tomatoes to squash to lettuce!

The Genesis Gardens grow a variety of produce, from tomatoes to squash to lettuce!

You may be wondering how this all relates to engineering, and to put it simply, Community First! is Project Ventura to the extreme. The project uses four different housing models: an RV trailer, a micro home, a park model home, and a tent, all of which can be rented out to formerly homeless people living in the Community First! society. We were able to tour the housing models, and were amazed at how comfortable the spaces felt. And costing between three to ten dollars a day to live in, they all provide an inexpensive way for formerly homeless people to live in a safe community where they can grow their own food, get work, and keep an address (an important asset for getting a job).

The trailers are often bought used or donated, and volunteers work with Community First! members to renovate the trailers and make them ready to live in.

The trailers are often bought used or donated, and volunteers work with Community First! members to renovate the trailers and make them ready to live in.

Community First! is unique because it focuses on using waste to make positive outcomes, both literally and metaphorically. Through a partnership with the Rework Project, formerly homeless, or “broken” people are able to take old and broken material and make something new and desirable. Some of the things the Community First! members often make include tree swings and benches made out of wood and old chairs. This was the coolest thing I saw during our tour, because the products they created were so good, they looked like they had been made professionally! And not only does this work provide income to these people overcoming homelessness, but it allows them to have a sense of pride and purpose in their community. Community First! also uses the broken to new metaphor in other parts of their program, such as watering the plants in their Genesis Garden with cast-off water from the City of Austin, or using the waste from their tilapia fish to purify their water supply. Talk about “solving problems creatively and ethically in support of our global community!”

One of the benches created by a Community First! resident- so cool!

One of the benches created by a Community First! resident so cool!

Before this field trip, I’d only thought of a travel trailer as something one might use for vacation or to live “off the grid.” I didn’t realize that something as simple and inexpensive as a 1980s Airstream could be used to lift someone off the streets and give them a new start. In the future, this would be a great outlet to donate our renovated trailers to!

For more information about Community First!, you can visit MLF.org/Community-First/.

-Erin Simons

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