After a long bus ride into North Austin, we pulled up into a gravel parking lot amidst some wooden buildings and a lot of green shrubs. The space had a very peaceful feeling. It seemed open. A man named Alan introduced himself to us and brought us into a gazebo. He was one of the founders of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. He told us a little about himself and the people he worked with, and then we watched some videos that explained more about the organization’s purpose.
Mobile Loaves and Fishes helps chronically homeless people living in Austin by incorporating them into a community. They are provided with mobile housing units, such as teepees, mobile homes, trailers, etc. for very low rent. MLF also helps these people find jobs that fit their skills. The members of MLF grow and prepare their own food together, fostering a sense of community. Alan explained that many people become homeless because they deal with extraordinary emotional or family issues, and feel unable to cope with them because they don’t have a supportive family or community. The solution to homelessness isn’t just providing these people with jobs, but giving them a sense of support and community.
The Community First aspect of the MLF project relates a lot to engineering and our mission statement at the Ann Richards school because the renovated trailers are a creative and resourceful engineering solution to an ongoing problem-homelessness. Many recently homeless people are unable to afford more expensive housing units right away, and renovating old mobile homes provides a creative solution to for MLF purchase many needed homes. Many people overlook old vehicles or homes as useless, just as the homeless are often dismissed as wasted parts of society. By renovating old trailers and supplies that are sometimes overlooked, Community First perpetuates the idea that something old or damaged still has valuable contributions to make.
It was so cool to see the different types of housing units that were used in the community, such as the teepee and the Airstream trailer from the 1960’s. Josh, the community agriculture expert, and Heidi, the animal husbandry expert, explained how the system of hydraulic farming using tilapia excrement for fertilizer fit in with the green aspect of Project Ventura, because every component of the farming, animal domestication, and irrigation system fit together in a system. Nothing was wasted. We tried to create a similar cyclical concept with our water and electrical systems in Project Ventura. Everything was reused, and little energy was wasted.
It was important for our class to see how projects similar to ours could be used to really help people. Before, Project Ventura was a hypothetical renovation for a trailer that would be used by ARS students and teachers for travel. None of us really imagined that renovating a trailer could have such a profound impact on someone’s life. In the future, I think our school should team up with MLF and maybe donate some renovated trailers to them, or at least volunteer and help out with renovations while learning about cyclical engineering and hydraulics from those living in the community. After all, engineering is all about using creativity to solve global problems-it’s in our mission statement.
For more information, check out the MLF website. http://mlf.org/community-first/