by Suzanne Labry
Quilts Providing Hope for the Homeless
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people [in the United States] were experiencing homelessness—meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.”
A subset of that statistic refers to the chronically homeless, defined as those who have experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the previous three years and have a disability. Research has shown that permanent housing, coupled with supportive services, is a cost-effective intervention that keeps people out of homeless shelters, emergency rooms, and jails.
A new resident of Community First Village (on the left) proudly displays the quilt made by Community First! Quilters that he received during his house blessing ceremony.
In Austin, Texas, a remarkable organization is aiming to permanently house the chronically homeless, and quilts are a part of the effort.
A 27-acre master-planned community called Community First! Village is being built by a 30-employee nonprofit known as Mobile Loaves & Fishes. Mobile Loaves & Fishes got its start in 1998 when Alan Graham and a small group of parishioners of St. John Neumann Catholic Church started delivering meals out of the back of a minivan to men and women they found living on the streets of Austin.
Today, the group has more than 18,000 volunteers—including its own dedicated quilting bee—and in addition to the significantly broadened food ministry, their initiatives have expanded to include clothing distribution, a micro business program, and housing opportunities. Community First! Village is their latest and largest effort.
Described by Graham as an “RV park on steroids,” Community First Village will, when fully complete, provide a creative mix of affordable, permanent housing for 250 formerly homeless people, which is roughly one-quarter of the homeless population in Austin.
There are three different types of rentable houses: RVs, micro-homes (permanent structures having less than 250 square feet), and canvas-sided cottages. The gated community will include its own bus stop; a medical facility; an outdoor theatre; a commercial kitchen; a visitor’s center, places for worship, study, and fellowship; a workshop with tools; an art gallery; walking trails; wifi; a bed-and-breakfast for use by mission visits; a dog park; a chicken operation; dairy goats; rabbits; bee hives; and an aquaponics system.
There will also be a columbarium surrounded by a memorial garden, as many chronically homeless people (who are often single, older adults) have suffered catastrophic disconnects from their families and request that Mobile Loaves & Fishes assume the role of end-of-life caregivers.
Quilter Linda Burch works as a receptionist in the Mobile Loaves & Fishes office. It was her idea to provide a quilt as a welcome gift for each homeless person who moves into one of the housing units at Community First! Village. Burch started the Community First! Quilters group, which meets monthly at The Cotton Cupboard Quilt Shop in Lakeway, Texas.
“The owner allows us to use her classroom and longarm quilting machine for our meeting day to work on quilts,” Burch says. “Three other area quilt shops are helping us with longarm quilting as well. Quilters also work individually at home, or at sewing bees. All fabrics have been donated by local and out-of state-quilters and we have a grant from a local business to purchase batting and supplies. Most quilts are machine pieced and quilted, but some have hand-stitched features. As each new resident moves to Community First! Village, we have a house blessing ceremony during which we present a basket with items to bless their new home -- including a quilt made by Community First! Quilters.”
A blessing, indeed!