Austin nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes has long been known for its innovative work with the city's homeless community, while Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse has become an innovator in the area of entertainment. Now the two have combined forces for a cool new outdoor cinema at MLF's Community First! Village.
The outdoor Alamo movie theater showed its first film, The Karate Kid, on March 5 at the 27-acre, master-planned community that provides affordable (around $200 a month), sustainable housing for the chronically homeless in Central Texas. Though this screening was not open to the general public, the Alamo Drafthouse says it is considering adding public events in the future.
Alan Graham, CEO of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, says the idea for the theater formed several years ago during a conversation with Alamo founder and CEO Tim League, who started seeing the prevalence of homeless Austinites after opening the theater chain's Ritz location on Sixth Street. During merchant meetings, League often heard business owners discussing the homeless but not necessarily thinking of creative ways to address the underlying causes.
League immersed himself in the issue, joining boards of housing nonprofits, researching public policies related to housing and even visiting model communities in other cities. Several approaches stood out to him as being truly innovative and having the potential to make long-term change — including Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
League suggested to Graham that the two talk to Texas hotelier Liz Lambert about the possibility of building a bed-and-breakfast with an outdoor movie theater. Lambert provided guidance about operating a bed-and-breakfast and, in fact, the MLF project was modeled after Lambert's El Cosmico in Marfa.
Construction on the CommunityFirst! Village of RVs and micro-homes started in October 2014. Although the Alamo theater took only a few weeks to build, Graham expects the entire village to be completed by April 1. In its finished form, the village will be able to house 250-300 formerly homeless people — and provide temporary accommodations for visitors and volunteers in a bed-and-breakfast format.
Amy Averett, director of family and community engagement for Alamo Drafthouse, says the Alamo team was inspired by the creative approach to the Community First! Village.
"Alan has always recognized and championed the need to bridge the divide between Austinites who have permanent housing and those that live on the streets," Averett says. "The outdoor movie space and B&B aspects of the village really address that.
"They are creating a community that almost any of us would love to be a part of."
Averett adds that the Alamo outdoor cinema will provide more than just entertainment; the theater offers onsite job opportunities and will be staffed by Community First! residents.