Category: Law & Politics

An Alternative Approach to Homeless Housing

A group of volunteers sew the fields at the Community First! gardens located in East Austin.

A group of volunteers sow the fields at the Community First! gardens located in East Austin. Photo by Joan Vinson.

By: Elyana Barrera, Alexis Chastain, Kaine Korzekwa and Joan Vinson

The people behind the Community First! project picture a $7-million, 27-acre space in East Austin filled with housing, living and gardening opportunities for Austin’s chronically homeless.

“Much more than wanting to be rid of the homeless as if they are a problem, we want to hold onto them because they are a treasure and we think that Austin is really going to see that and come up around this space,” said Heidi Sloan, who is in charge of animal husbandry and pasture management for the project.

Community First!, located at 9301 Hog Eye Lane, is just one program under the umbrella of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, an organization that started 15 years ago by combining food trucks and ministry to deliver food to homeless people. Along with Community First!, it leads two other offshoot programs: the Relationships & Opportunities Allowing for Dignity & Security program and Genesis Gardens. Many of the programs overlap in their day-to-day activities and utilize volunteers for most of their work.

Info from MLF.org. Infographic by Elyana Barrera.

Info from MLF.org. Infographic by Elyana Barrera.

 

The first installments in the community project are the gardens, pathways, and fire pit areas, and this is why Sloan, who is actually affiliated with Genesis Gardens, has her hand in the project.

“Genesis Gardens started as a seed-to-table farming program,” she said. “We thought we were growing food but it turns out we are growing relationships. We are growing care and most of all we are growing homemaking skills. And so the relationship of Genesis Gardens to Community First! is that when people move into their housing they often don’t have those skills and the knowledge needed to create a good place for themselves and to be good neighbors to those around them.”

Standing next to a chicken coop, a young volunteer prepares to feed the chickens with food she picked from Genesis Gardens.

Standing next to a chicken coop, a young volunteer prepares to feed the chickens with food she picked from Genesis Gardens. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Sloan said that almost all of the funding for the project has come from individual donations, and that the group has garnered $6 million of their $7-million goal. She said they rarely pursue federal funds or grants because they “put strings on things” and “create paradigms of success that don’t look like the paradigms [Community First!] is pursuing.”

Having numerous gardens, pathways, fire pits, a chicken coop and life-sized chessboard already in place, the group hopes to have the housing areas under construction by the summer and some residents moved in by next year, said Sloan. She added that there are also plans for a great hall building, an Alamo Drafthouse drive-in theatre and a bed and breakfast, all to offer employment opportunities to the community’s residents.

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While sectioning off parts of Genesis Gardens, a volunteer is careful not to step on plants. Photo by Joan Vinson.

The housing in this space will not be free, and Mobile Loaves & Fishes president Alan Graham said his plan will feature RVs and micro houses at four different price models: $90, $200, $325 and $375 per month.

“Covenant number one [every resident] makes is to pay [his or her] rent, period, end of story,” he said. “If you don’t pay your rent you’re not going to live there very long. You have to pay.”

While Graham began with food trucks 15 years ago, it was 10 years ago that he formed the idea to lift the homeless off the streets. They currently house previously homeless people in RV parks all across the city.

“Ten years ago, because I love to hunt and fish, I was going to look at a ranch with a friend of mine who was wanting to buy it over near Fredericksburg,” Graham said. “I saw an RV over there and I got really interested in that RV and I thought when I was looking inside it ‘this was a place that I could live’ and so we went and bought one and lifted a guy off the streets into an RV park in Austin. Ten years later that guy still lives in that RV and we have about 60 total.”

Mother of five Kelbi Schlueter enjoys taking her children to volunteer with her and thinks it’s an important experience for her children.

“The kids love it and get very comfortable in different situations with different people,” she said. “My favorite thing is that we actually volunteer every Christmas morning and serve others first before having our own Christmas later.”

Amanda Qarashi works in the information and technology department for Mobile Loaves & Fishes but is an avid volunteer with its different programs.

“I really think we offer the best volunteer experience of any non-profit,” she said. “You get a real human experience. I will never forget when, after an evening of dispersing food on the trucks, my son quietly said to me from the back seat, ‘You know what’s amazing is when you help other people it makes you feel better, too.’ ‘That’s absolutely the truth,’ I told him.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell has expressed his support for the project.

“This project is an opportunity if it can flourish and grow to remove the [Austin Resource Center for the Homeless] from downtown,” Leffingwell told KVUE reporters for a story in November of last year.

While it may solve problems downtown, many are worried about the neighborhoods surrounding Community First! in East Austin and how it will affect them. When Mobile Loaves & Fishes took their plans to the city early in 2013, many residents, business owners and associations argued against the project.

Kenneth Koym, president of Imperial Valley Neighborhood Association, was a lead writer on a petition to stop the project. When the Multimedia Newsroom researched his name it was too late for an interview but a reporter found YouTube videos he posted online discussing Community First!.

“There are six subdivisions that have not been asked by investigators, somebody that comes in and asks what is your opinion, can you make room for these people?” Koym says in a video posted in March of last year after Graham had won approval from the city. “No, we haven’t been asked that. There’s a need.”

He said residents on properties neighboring Community First! are worried about increased crime and decreased property values. Stories also surfaced in reports by Koym to officials in state and federal governments that questioned Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ business practices and said that homeowners, families, children and elderly taxpayers got “bullied” in the organization’s deal with the city.

“We understand that the homeless need to have a place but the place for them has been selected not by us…but rather by a city council that approved of a staff recommendation,” he also says in the YouTube video.

A call to Ellis Johnston, a once-homeless man who now volunteers with Community First!, was not returned by press time.

Graham has said the community will be a secure, gated area and doesn’t anticipate any issues, but actually encourages surrounding neighborhoods to get involved in the project by visiting MLF.org. He added that, for him, Mobile Loaves & Fishes is always rooted in his faith.

“When you read scripture over and over and over again [Jesus] was out in the grittiness, in the boughs of the respective cities that he journey to reaching out and touching the most discarded humans that were out there and demanding that others do the same and actually challenging the authority at the time,” Graham said. “I kinda just wanted to do what he was doing. I wanted to go out there and find value in some of the human beings that most of us could look at and want to just kick to the street corner.”

Print piece by Kaine Korzekwa

 

Licensed To Carry

Concealed Handgun Licensing
By: Kristina Latham, Patrica Small, & Dylan Carter

“Your life will change, the very minute you pull that gun out and squeeze the trigger, shoot somebody and your life will never be the same,” said Michael Cargill. Cargill is the owner of Central Texas Gun Work, and an instructor for concealed handgun licensing classes. He promotes safety and gun knowledge as the basis of his class, “the gun is the last line of defense, you have other options first,” said Cargill.

Having a license to carry a concealed handgun was legalized underSenate Bill 60 in 1995. Recently however there has been much scrutiny in the media for acts of gun control. Joseph Farror an advocate for gun rights said, “I think we should be able to have our guns, if the president is protected by guns, we should be able to protect ourselves.”

For a person to obtain a concealed handgun license in the state of Texas they must meet a multitude of requirements. According to chapter 411 section 172 of the law enforcement and public protection agency of the Texas Department of Public Safety one must be a legal resident of the state for a minimum of six months, over the age of 21, have never been convicted of a felony or class A or B misdemeanor, is not delinquent of child support payment, not a chemically dependent person, and of sound mind.

White males are overwhelmingly the largest demographic wanting to receive their concealed handgun license. They are responsible for 63.33% of the total applicants approved for licensing in 2013, while African American’s were the third largest demographic with just 5.41% of approved applications or 13,133 out of 242,641 license received. Cargill says those fighting for the abolishment of the right to carry a concealed handgun, should look at the statics to see the people with have concealed handgun license are not the people committing acts of gun violence.

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The most recent statistics of gun violence in Texas was taken between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012. These statistics show that there were 63,272 total convictions of gun violence in people over the age of 21. Out of this total only 120 of these convictions were committed by concealed handgun license holders. That is just .1879%.

As of January 2014 Illinois became the last state to allow concealed weapons. Not every state requires individuals to have a license to carry, but all states permit concealed handguns after obtaining a concealed handgun permit.

Same-Sex, Same-Love


Marriage Equality

By: Dylan Carter, Jarrid Denman, Kristina Latham

1,400 rights separate same -sex couples from being equal to married couples. That is 1,400 reasons to tell the story of the LGBTQ community, and their journey to marriage equality through the legalization of gay marriage.

According to a 2011 Williams Institute report 3.5% of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. This number constitutes about nine million people of the US population. Only 17 states out of 50 recognize same-sex marriage in support of these nine million people.

Some argue a separation of church and state should be the reason for marriage equality, others say love is love, and some believe that who they choose to love is no one’s business but their own. Whatever the argument may be, facts are facts.

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004. Between 2003 and 2008 the divorce rate decreased 21%. Aside from this The University of California Los Angeles, Williams Institute of Law estimated legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey would create 800 new jobs $248 million over three years and $19 million in government revenues.

Shane Walley director of the Gender and Sexuality center at The University of Texas at Austin said, “Over half of American’s now believe that same-sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual married couples.”

Walley a member of the LGBTQ community believes that there are a few people in high places that are not ready to let America become a world leader on the issue of marriage equality.

There are currently 16 countries that allow gay marriage and certain jurisdictions of Mexico and States of the U.S.
Not all same-sex couples are arguing for marriage equality on the basis of simply symbolizing marriage. In fact it is far from the biggest reason for many. Paul Gandy and Marcus Allen feel that gay marriage should be legalized for the protection of each other’s beneficiary legal rights.

Married couples do not have to worry if their spouse passes away that their in-laws have legal rights to the assets of the departed. Such as but not limited to real estate holdings and financial gains. Many homosexual couples live in fear that this could happen to them.

“If one of us was injured in an accident we would not have legal rights to make medical decisions for each other, even as each other’s beneficiaries; that right would be left up to our families,” said Paul Gandy.

The prevention of marriage equality denies same-sex couples from financial benefits from jointly filing taxes as a married couple, as well as many same-sex couples are refused spousal benefits such as medical insurance provided from employers to married couples.

“I think many people are hesitant of the legalizing gay marriage because of religious values based on the bible,” said Nolan Cox “Really in my opinion it should be a separation of church and state.

Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a United States Federal Law that allowed states to refuse same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states. DOMA was ruled unconstitutional under Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment in 2011.

Same-sex couples are far from having the legal rights accustomed to heterosexual married couples, but folks like Shane Walley are hopeful for the future.

“I think that eventually marriage equality will be legalized in Texas and throughout the United States, I believe we have a long ways to go, but with every state that rules it unconstitutional to deny same-sex marriage it is a step in the right direction,” said Walley.

Three Years Later

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By Sheila Buenrostro, Lauren Giudice, Austin Powell

History of Mass Shootings in America

UT Tower

Screen shot 2013-09-29 at 9.08.04 PM Charles Whitman, age 25, opened fire from the 28th floor of the UT Tower on August 1, 1966. Whitman injured 45 people and killed 14 others during his 90 minute shooting rampage, after which he was shot and killed by police. This became one of the first mass shootings to take place in the United States.

Columbine High School


Eric Harris, age 18, and Dylan Klebold, age 17, carried out one of the deadliest high school shootings in American history. On April 20, 1999, the two teenagers went to school armed with semiautomatic rifles, explosives, and pistols. Within 20 minutes they killed 13 people and injured 21 others as well as taking their own lives.

Virginia Tech


On Monday April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, age 23, killed 32 people and wounded 17 others during two separate attacks. The shootings took place at Virginia Tech Campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. The first attack occurred at 7:15 in the morning leaving 2 pope shot and killed in a dormitory. The next attack happened more than 2 hours after the first and left 32 people dead, including the gunman.

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UT Students Share Their Stories From The Day

Skylar Isdale

Jackie Kuenstler

Becca Cerk

Sergeant Bonnet