Tony Carmona and his wife and son were homeless for two years before an Austin, Texas, nonprofit group, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, bought them a used RV trailer.
According to the American Statesman, the family has decorated their slice of land in a Southeast Austin trailer park with warm touches: potted plants, a white lattice fence and angel sculptures.
“For us, this is not just a trailer. We think of it as a home,” Tony Carmona said.
Alan Graham, the founder of the faith-based Mobile Loaves and Fishes, which provides food and clothes to the homeless, now has a more ambitious goal: to create a trailer park to house 200 chronically homeless people – usually defined as folks who have been homeless for at least a year.
He wants the park to be a gated community with 100 RV trailers, 100 canvas tents and communal spaces such as gardens, a laundry room, a nondenominational chapel and a fitness center.
Graham plans to raise $2.5 million for the project, named Habitat on Wheels, and charge low rents to pay for operational costs. He wants the city to donate 15 or 20 acres of land for it but says he’ll buy land if necessary to set up the park within two years.
The land would have to be near a bus line, so that residents could get to jobs or social service providers, he said.
Finding a site that city leaders and other community groups and neighborhoods can agree on could prove tough. In the past there have been intense disagreements over where to locate facilities like a city shelter and a day-labor site for low-wage workers.
Mayor Will Wynn said that the park concept is “very sound” and that it would be realistic for the city, or possibly the county or state, to set aside land for it.
“I would like to see this community do an analysis of public land this year and see if we can come to a consensus about land that could be used for a product like this,” he said.
One option, Wynn said, would be putting the park on land the city doesn’t plan to develop for many more years.
“This (park) could be a low-cost, quickly delivered, important piece of our inventory of housing opportunities,” he said.
A few cities, Seattle and Portland, Ore., among them, already have campgrounds to house the homeless. Graham’s trailer park would also be based on an idea that’s gaining steam nationally called Housing First. The concept is that homeless people, who sometimes suffer from problems such as drug addiction or mental illness, can’t be properly treated until their basic need of shelter is met. And it’s tough to apply for a job or other services without a home phone or mailing address, Graham said.
A trailer park could meet a dire housing need quickly and inexpensively compared with other housing options, such as buying and converting an old building, Graham said. Used trailers cost about $10,000 apiece.