Alan Graham started Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a ministry to the homeless in Austin, out of a van in 1998. Since its humble beginnings 22 years ago Mobile Loaves & Fishes has become synonymous with second chances, grace, and goodness. Alan Graham’s vision of service created a community for some of the most vulnerable in our society and empowers others to lead by his example.
Like many who devote their lives to helping others, he learned quickly that he had to first re-think his assumptions about homelessness.
Homelessness is not about being without shelter, he says. It’s about a breakdown in relationships and that’s where Mobile Loaves & Fishes differs from other organizations. This local Austin organization focuses on building lives, not just building homes.
“It all boils down to a profound, catastrophic loss of family,” he says.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes works to address the physical needs that the chronically homeless have as well as their emotional needs. Currently, the organization has three core programs to serve the homeless in the Austin area. The first, and probably most well known, is their truck ministry program which has served over 5.5 million meals to those in need and is the largest program of it’s kind in Central Texas.
Their newest ventures, Community First! Village and the Community Works program work to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of our homeless neighbors and allow them to explore their talents, and in many cases thrive and earn a steady income while creating relationships, learning new skills, and focusing on finding a place they can truly call home.
“That’s the population we serve—the chronically homeless,” he explains. “They’ve been on the streets an average of 10 years.”
Those who come to Community First! Village aren’t looking for handouts or a free ride; they are looking for relationships that so many people tend to take for granted. They’re looking for a smile from a friendly neighbor and a wave on their way to check the mail; they’re looking to be welcomed back into the world they never meant to leave.
“As a society, we tend to give up on them,” he says. “Or we blame them. No one wants this life.”
In the years since founding the organization, Graham has expanded its operations and now helps to provide homes—and community—to the formerly chronically homeless.
“About 15 years ago, we bought our first gently used RV, lifted a guy up off the streets and into a privately owned RV park, started dreaming about building an RV park on steroids, and here you go,” he explains. “These RVs are all hooked up to city water, city sewer and city electric. We have about 240 people out here now.”
What started out as a dream of an “RV park on steroids” has turned into a history-making, master-planned neighborhood that houses hundreds of chronically homeless individuals who got a second chance. In fact, Graham’s organization has partnered with Austin-based ICON to build the first 3D-printed homes in Community First! Village. Tim Shea, who currently lives in Community First! Village, will be the first human to ever live in a 3D-printed home.
But Graham emphasizes again that the city’s “Housing First” approach—which seeks to put the homeless into housing without addressing underlying problems and pathologies—will never work.
“We always think we can solve human problems from a transactional view; you can’t,” he says. “You have to solve them with relationships. We all desire to be fully and wholly loved. We all desire community.”
That—and not simply housing—is what Mobile Loaves & Fishes seeks to engender.
“Government should only play a subsidiary role,” he says. “No one is anti-government. But when it comes to human beings, government isn’t going to be there to tuck you in at night. It’s necessary for other humans to be involved.”
Transforming the lives of the homeless also means transforming how the rest of us think about them.
“What we’re really calling the community to do is to rally around the homeless,” he says. “And really, the only way to change people’s thinking is to show them what the possibilities are.”
You can learn more about Alan Graham and his 22 year journey online and via his podcast, Gospel Con Carne.