PORT TOWNSEND — Come on in to Community First! is this movie’s message.
Come on in to a neighborhood where people live in micro-homes and RVs alongside vegetable gardens and shade trees, all on 27 acres. This might look like a suburban housing tract, since it is a master-planned development. But something different is happening: Formerly homeless people have turned it into a village.
The neighborhood, in Austin, Texas, is called Community First! It’s the inspiration for “Community First! A Home for the Homeless,” a documentary film streaming free to the public this Monday through next Sunday, March 7. The Port Townsend Film Festival is the portal to see the movie: PTFilm fest.com.
To accompany the 65-minute documentary, festival Executive Director Janette Force has recorded an interview with the movie’s director, Layton Blaylock, and village founder Alan Graham, also to be streamed all week.
“Community First!” is free thanks to the film festival’s partnership with the Friends of the Port Townsend Library and the 2021 Community Read, which focuses on the importance of home.
“House Lessons: Renovating a Life” by local author Erica Bauermeister is the selected book, around which several free events are planned; information awaits at PTPublicLibrary.org.
To watch a trailer and learn more about the Community First! village, visit communityfirstthemovie.com.
Like Jefferson and Clallam counties and so many other localities across the country, Austin struggled with how to help people make the transition — permanently — out of being homeless. The “Community First!” film explores how a sense of neighborhood, where residents look out for one another, makes the difference.
For a long time, “housing first” has been a motto for advocates seeking to help people struggling with unemployment, addiction and poor physical and mental health.
Yet Graham and his team take another tack.
“Housing will never solve homelessness,” he says in the film, “but community will.”
The Community First! village made it through the brutal weather and blackouts in Texas earlier this month with no outages, Blaylock reported.
“The village never lost power or water. I’m very thankful that they didn’t encounter the same problems that a lot of Texans did,” he said.
Force spoke with Graham about the snowstorm that hit the Lone Star State. He told her about Community First! residents shoveling one another’s walks and checking on their neighbors.
She added that in the film, Blaylock goes deep, diving into the reasons people become homeless. He also gives those who are housed time to talk about their perspectives on the stubborn problem.
Blaylock “allows all the folks to speak for themselves with dignity, and a humble understanding of our reluctance to step into the conversation,” Force said.
”This film invited me into a much better conversation.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]