Sitting outside of a parked RV, Andrea Jansen meticulously strokes magenta paint against a canvas. A flag reading “Home is where you park it” can be seen just outside her RV – a place she only recently began calling home.
She does not pay rent; the artist exchanges her artistic labors for a place to park her RV home. Andrea Jansen is a resident of Community First! Village, a residential program in Austin, TX that helps give homes to those who once experienced homelessness, or who struggle to find permanent housing.
“I was expecting a kind of funky housing project,” Jansen admits. “But what I found has been a sense of community like I never imagined.” By highlighting the small beginnings of the village and the harrowing stories of its residents, Community First: A Home for the Homeless shows how one man’s idea can turn into another man’s saving grace.
Founder Alan Graham describes the community as an “RV park on steroids.” Created as a permanent housing solution for the chronically homeless, Community First! Village offers its residents more than just a place to live. It offers them a place to call home – an idea many of the residents find foreign.
Community First gives viewers an intimate glimpse into the lives of those society pushes farthest away. As each resident shares their story, we are given a detailed and often heart-wrenching tale of the adversities they face. Many retell how psychological or physical disabilities made finding housing and full-time employment challenging. Although many of the residents still struggle to find employment, they are given the opportunity to create works of art, harvest food and craft other tangible items to sell in exchange for place to stay. By providing them with a balanced lifestyle and creative outlet, Community First! Village helps people rediscover their purpose and recover from the pains of their past.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on any given night in 2017 as many as 554,000 people nationwide were homeless. Housing projects may help those who are looking for a temporary place to stay, but without a strong foundation, many find themselves out on the streets shortly after their stay. Other housing projects concentrate on providing temporary housing, not permanent solutions. Community First hopes their focus on people's’ passions can reverse that trend and bring stability to a needy population. In short, they hope to create community.
"I think the greatest achievement of Community First village is the philosophy itself,” Graham says. “What we believe is a new movement, a new understanding as to how valuable community is. An understanding that says housing will never solve homelessness, but community will."
This doc highlights the complexities of homelessness and shows how compassion can move mountains. The flick is not just about a unique housing project, it’s about humanity’s resilience and the captivating force of kinship. It’s one you won’t want to miss.
Community First: A Home for the Homeless runs 65 minutes and will be shown Saturday, April 13 at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse as part of Thin Line Film Festival. To register for Thin Line Fest or to purchase a premium registration, click here.