Guest opinion: It takes a village

Driving through the homeless encampments of Austin, Texas, Alan Graham was frustrated. With a growing homeless population of nearly 2,200 living on the streets in desperation, he couldn’t stand to hear politicians keep talking about the problem without offering any real solutions. Luckily for Austin, Mr. Graham was committed to finding a solution. Instead of letting the problem stall out in intellectual discussions and endless committees, Mr. Graham decided to get out of his car and begin to form real, meaningful relationships with the homeless citizens of Austin. After many nights sleeping on the streets and hearing story after story, Alan Graham describes homelessness as “a profound, catastrophic loss of family”. Mr. Graham’s remedy to this? An incredible and revolutionary idea called Community First Village. Community First Village is a tiny home community created with one thing in mind – repairing and healing that “profound, catastrophic loss of family”. 

In January, I had the opportunity to visit Community First Village with Joseph Grenny, Tim Stay, and Dave Durocher from The Other Side Academy. While walking the block and talking with neighbors, we were inspired by the powerful sense of community we witnessed. Neighbors talked with one another on their porches, and everyone knew each other on a first-name basis. Microenterprises like art, trades, and other industries thrived within the village and at the end of the day, everyone had a door to lock behind them, and a roof over their head. 

Returning home to Salt Lake City, we see a much different experience for our homeless sisters and brothers sleeping on the streets and sidewalks. Violence, victimization, and squalor run rampant throughout the encampments. Living in tents or under a bridge makes our unsheltered population easy targets for violent criminals, drug dealers, and even human traffickers taking advantage of our most vulnerable citizens. 

Originally hesitant to take on such a monumental undertaking, The Other Side Academy leadership felt compelled to take initiative after seeing the drastic contrast between the connection and warmth of Community First Austin, and the destitute situation on the streets of Salt Lake. This led to the creation of “The Other Side Village”.  Modeled after Community First, and coupled with the proven results of The Other Side Academy, The Other Side Village seeks to “…Create an environment, socially and physically, that facilitates connection with others… (and) establish a community with strong social norms to bring out the best in all of us.” 

While The Other Side Academy staff and countless community members have been working tirelessly on the creation and implementation of The Other Side Village, some have recently criticized the initiative as possibly “isolating” our unsheltered citizens. This sentiment could not be further from the truth. As Joseph Grenny explained,  “it’s (going to be) a vibrant, wonderful place for people to build relationships.”The Other Side Village meets people where they are, offers strength, safety, connection, and community, all while supporting people in their journey to become the best they can be. To say that The Other Side Village is putting people “out of sight, out of mind” is completely disconnected from reality. 

Tyler Clancy is the executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition