John Paul DeJoria gifts $1.6 million to 'Community First! Village'

Alan Graham is founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. "Community First! Village" is a 51-acre master plan community.  

Graham says it's designed to lift chronically homeless men and women off the streets of Austin.

"We're talking the most despised, outcast, lost and forgotten of our city.  The men and women that you see standing on the street corners and living under our bridges, into a place where they can heal and discover the true meaning of home," Graham said.

Everybody pays rent.  They also grow food and make a living. "We have a full-blown organic farming operation, we have a micro-enterprise operation that includes an arthouse, a pottery operation," Graham said.

On Friday, a groundbreaking ceremony for an 8,000 square foot "Community Works Entrepreneur Hub."  Residents can use their talents and skills to earn income there. "A lot of our operations will move into here and expand so that we can create more opportunities for people to earn dignified income." 

That project is part of Phase II of the village.  And it's happening thanks to a $1.6 million gift from Austin philanthropist and the man behind the Paul Mitchell empire: John Paul DeJoria -- through his foundation "JP's Peace Love and Happiness."

"The beautiful thing is they collect money.  And the taxes they collect go back to the city!  So it's not like 'look at these homeless people that are costing us money' it's like 'Wow look at what came out of something like Community First!" DeJoria said.

Paul Mitchell is in more than 100 countries all over the globe.  But DeJoria says in the early '80s when he started the company, they had a backer that pulled out.  DeJoria was suddenly homeless. "I was too embarrassed to say 'Mom, can I have my old room back?  Will you feed me?'  I was just embarrassed.  So I kind of lived in my car on my own for a few weeks," DeJoria said.

DeJoria is also funding an aquaponics operation at the village for about $145,000.

"And so bam!  That's what he does and that's how he rolls," Graham said.  

We asked Graham about Austin's political climate this summer.  

Actions the City Council took making it legal to camp, sit or lie in public places.  

"I understand the side of people that want to stop criminalizing that issue and I understand the side of people that want to maintain civil order," he said. 

Graham says what he's really grateful for...

"The conversation that has ensued from that deal is at the highest level of any conversation that I've ever seen in my 43 years of living in Austin, Texas," Graham said.

He says we have a moment in history here in Austin to collectively work on the issue.

"Cause it's going to take all of us.  Not City Hall, not State government, not Washington D.C., not Mobile Loaves and Fishes," Graham said.