HOMEDALE - It's a place to call home for hundreds of the homeless in Austin, Texas. A non-profit's vision for a Community First village there is now a reality- with the help of a man 1,600 miles away in rural Homedale, Idaho.
Twenty-seven acres of an affordable, sustainable and supportive community for the disabled and chronically homeless in Central Texas, and Ken Bahem with Ken's Tent & Canvas in Homedale was sought out to help make it happen.
When Bahem picked up the phone and agreed to make a tent for a man in Texas about six years ago, he didn't realize the important role he was about to play for an entire community. Years later, that same man, Alan Graham - the founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes - contacted him again, asking for dozens more.
"We started the week before Christmas and we got done I think the second week in February," Bahem told KTVB.
The tents are for the Community First! Village outside of Austin that will eventually house 250 residents by next year.
"As far as I know there's none other like it," Bahem said.
Located on 27 acres of donated land, the village is geared toward the chronically homeless, a concept that Bahem learned a lot about while he visited the village last week.
"They'll be able to sustain there, and they won't be on the streets," he added.
Mobile Loaves and Fishes paid for Bahem to fly out on Saturday to see what the organization did with his tents - and to see what the village living was all about. Residents will pay a few hundred dollars in rent each month and they have the option of choosing a micro home, an RV or one of Bahem's tents.
"They're all intermingled. Any one of these little squares can be a tent," he said as he showed us a map of the property.
It was an eye-opening experience for him, he added.
"With the right people running the right program, things can work, I think."
Seeing this model executed in Austin begs the question: Could something like this work in Boise?
"I think Cooper Court really exposed to us there is a need and a deep-seated desire for community, and a community of people that you identify with," Charitable Assistance to Community's Homeless (CATCH) Executive Director Wyatt Schroeder said. "So let's lean into that."
CATCH promotes the housing first model that the city is working on, which aims to give a chronically homeless person a roof over their head along with medical and mental health services and resources to get off of the streets permanently.
"The house is just the first step. It's sometimes not enough to just have just a home," Schroeder added. "We just need to make sure we're all identifying with the same solutions or else we'll be at cross purposes."
Bahem says he's looking forward to going back in a couple years when the village is fully up and running. He says the group is already planning on building more homes and tents on a plot of land that's been donated right next to this one so he hopes there's still more good work to be done.