Over the past several years, I traveled around the country and read widely to learn about the creative ways that people are living now. Those nuclear family households that we once considered “traditional” now comprise fewer than 20 percent of all households in the U.S. The vast majority of us need to find new ways to live.
One concern I had at the outset is that innovative ways of living would be available only to people with lots of money and resources. Happily, that turned out to be far from true. Although a few of the people I interviewed for How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century were well off, the vast majority were not. That did not stop them from finding or creating the lifespaces that worked best for them. Whatever their circumstances, they found their place, their space, and their people.
In my research, I felt proud to have discovered creative lifespaces among the homeless. I didn’t visit the one I’ll describe here – I just read about it. You won’t find this discussion in How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. It is one of the many passages cut from the book because I wrote way too much in my first draft.
Community First Village: An Inspiring Lifespace for the Homeless
In the spring of 2014, Texans were busily building their beautiful, colorful, and sunny Community First Village in East Austin. Tiny houses, RVs, and mobile homes will all be part of the 27-acre tree-lined landscape. So will a giant chessboard, plus “a permaculture food forest and gardens, chickens, goats, and rabbits, a woodworking and RV repair workshop, a bed and breakfast, outdoor cooking areas, a pond full of catfish, and an outdoor movie screen for community gatherings.” Already, volunteer workers have organized Saturday morning breakfasts and sometimes bands come by to play. The village is designed to be a model of “living sustainably, and close to nature and animals, and spending time with those you love.” Other groups such as Occupy Madison, the local Wisconsin version of New York’s Occupy Wall Street, are working on similar communities.
Not just anyone can live in the Community First Village. It is going to be a place for the homeless (and maybe some staff), where they can settle in, get work, and pay the rent – which for some of the dwellings will be as low as $90. A social justice ministry, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, will help future residents find jobs both within the community and beyond. Already a crew of homeless people are building and painting. Once the community is up and running, others will tend to the animals and perhaps harvest fruit from the trees which can then be made into jams that can be sold at the local farmers markets.
The new community is not a way of sectioning off the formerly homeless. Amenities such as the outdoor movie screen are designed to welcome people from outside the Community First Village. In addition, a nearby bus stop provides easy access to downtown Austin.
House concept image available from Shutterstock