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Exclusive: Dell family foundation gives $38 million to 3 organizations to end homelessness

Nicole Villalpando Austin American-Statesman

Published 8:45 a.m. CT Nov 30, 2021

The foundation set up by Michael and Susan Dell is giving a total of $38 million to three organizations focused on homelessness. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is giving $38 million to three local nonprofit organizations that provide housing for people experiencing homelessness in Austin.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes' capital campaign will get $36.6 million to go toward the building of the third and fourth phases of its Community First Village program, which houses people who have experienced homelessness in a community of microhouses, manufactured homes and RVs.

The two phases will add 1,400 homes. Half will be in phase three on 51 acres next to the existing 51 acres with 500 homes on Hog Eye Road in Northeast Austin. The other half will be in the fourth phase, a 76-acre space on Burleson Road between U.S. 183 and McKinney Falls Parkway in Southeast Austin.

The two phases are a $150 million project, which already has raised $40.9 million, including $35 million from Travis County. The Dell family foundation funds will be matched $1 for every $2 raised from the community. If all the money is raised to meet the $36.6 million match, the project will have the needed $150 million.

The Dell family foundation is also giving $1 million to Foundation Communities to build 100 apartment units on the site of Community First Village's fourth phase on Burleson Road.

And it will give $400,000 to LifeWorks, which provides permanent housing for youths experiencing homelessness.

“As Austin grows, it’s more important than ever that we care for those most vulnerable in our communities,” said Susan Dell, co-founder and board chair of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “By coming together as a community, we can provide those experiencing homelessness in Central Texas with the dignity they deserve through stable housing and the opportunity to experience community again. We are honored to partner with Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Foundation Communities and LifeWorks — along with the broader Central Texas community through our community match — to accelerate the difference these organizations are already making on the ground each day.”

This $38 million donation to the three organizations focusing on homelessness is outside of the Dell family foundation's main mission, which is to improve the lives of children living in urban poverty. In 2019, the foundation gave $103.7 million in grants to those causes in the U.S., India and South Africa.

“The Foundation remains committed to its core mission of creating opportunity for children and families living in urban poverty through education, health, and family economic stability,” said Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive officer of Dell Technologies and co-founder of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “We believe everyone deserves opportunity. But it isn’t easy to chart the path to a stronger future without a secure place to live. With stable housing and a supportive community, people can create a better future.”

Mobile Loaves & Fishes founder and CEO Alan Graham announced the launch of the third and fourth phases of Community First Village in April. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

The generosity of the Dell family foundation "reflects where we are culturally with the homelessness pandemic," said Alan Graham, the founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes.

"We're having a moment about homelessness in Austin," said Amber Fogarty, president of Mobile Loaves & Fishes. While Austin has seen the way homelessness can divide the community, the grant is "recognition that it really will take all of us if we want to mitigate homelessness."

The Dell family foundation making this gift will catalyze these organizations' efforts, Fogarty said.

"The invitation is to everyone in the community," Fogarty said. "Every gift matters."

Shorty Joe works in the garden at Community First Village in April. Joe, who was once homeless, has lived in a microhome at Community First Village for five years. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

Mobile Loaves & Fishes is in the permitting phase of the project and expects to begin construction in the summer. Of the project's budget, $50 million will go toward the infrastructure of the community and $100 million will be for building the 1,400 homes.

Love, Tito's, the philanthropic arm of Austin's Tito's Handmade Vodka, helped provide the funding for the land.

Community First Village broke ground on its first phase in 2014, and its first residents moved in during the fall of 2015.

Community First Village resident Tim Shea, left, gives tour to Travis County Judge Andy Brown and his executive assistant, Kim Romero, after a news conference announcing the expansion of the village in April. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

It just completed the village's second phase, a $20 million project. This year 220 people who had been chronically homeless were living on the property as well as 50 "missional neighbors" — people "who feel called to live in the community," Fogarty said.

The residents pay $230 a month with all bills paid for the microhomes and $430 a month plus the cost of electricity and propane for the manufactured homes.

Most of the neighbors who now live at Community First Village have been chronically homeless an average of 10 years, Graham said, and the single biggest cause of homelessness is a loss of family connection.

"We're trying to care for the must vulnerable," Graham said.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes is about creating relationships, he said. Instead of just moving people from one place to another, Graham said, "it's important that we move them in a very relational way. People want us to move them overnight, but it doesn't work out that way. It turns out, humans are pretty sensitive."

Three-fourths of the people who had been chronically homeless and are living there receive Social Security or Social Security disability payments. They also earn money by working around the community doing janitorial chores or landscaping and have their own businesses creating artwork and gifts for the community's online store and in-person shop.

The new phases will have "neighborhoods of knowingness," which are pockets of 50 to 60 homes in microneighborhoods to create connectivity among the residents.

"This village has and always will belong to our entire community," Fogarty said. "... Even people who struggle with understanding homelessness, we want to invite them to come to our village. When you get to know (the people who were formerly experiencing homelessness) and learn their stories, you learn how incredibly resilient they are. ... They have a tremendous amount of wisdom to share."

Community First Village provides a mix of mobile homes and and tiny houses for people who have been homeless. With funding from Travis County, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the community, Mobile Loaves & Fishes plans to build a second community on Burleson Road. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

Originally posted on Austin American-Statesman


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