Click the “play” icon on the image above to watch a short film about Esperanza Community and The Other Ones Foundation.
Jimmy James learned about the Esperanza Community by googling “Texas homeless camps.” He’d been living on the streets of Houston for about three years, and the challenges of that lifestyle nearly brought him to a breaking point. After being reassured by a friend who had visited the place, he bought a tent and moved to Austin on December 1, 2020.
When he arrived, Jimmy found an encampment of roughly 150 people living in tents and temporary shelters on a sprawling, flat slab of asphalt off U.S. 183 that was once a Texas Department of Transportation storage lot. The state’s governor, Greg Abbott, designated the site for camping in late 2019 in an effort to divert unhoused people from downtown Austin.
By the time Jimmy moved to the community, it was also home to The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF), an organization that provides low-barrier income opportunities, hygiene facilities, and case management for Austin’s unhoused neighbors. TOOF relocated their office to the growing encampment in the summer of 2020, working in partnership with the residents and other organizations to create a safe community where people could access crucial support services.
As a result of this collaboration, the encampment evolved into the Esperanza Community — named through popular vote by the people living there, and guided by a similarly elected leadership committee of residents. Since their arrival as stewards of the site, TOOF has added a community kitchen, shower trailers, a clinic, an air-conditioned recreation room, space for on-site case management, and more than 30 temporary shelters for the community’s most vulnerable residents.
“I think this is going to prove to be a model of a safe and dignified place where people can get out of the streets and work through the system to find housing,” said Max Moscoe, TOOF’s communications manager.
That has already borne out for many Esperanza residents, including Jimmy. After living at Esperanza Community for about nine months, he was able to move into permanent housing about eight miles away, in Community First! Village, a 51-acre planned community that provides affordable homes and support for people coming out of chronic homelessness.
“I can’t believe that, after all this time, I’m finally getting a place to live,” he said. “This has saved me, so I owe a lot to the foundation. If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be in Houston on the streets.”
The Esperanza Community continues to evolve. In September, TOOF and partners broke ground on a critical new phase: the construction of a transitional housing complex, which will eventually include 200 individual tiny homes — insulated, lockable, and outfitted with electricity and air conditioning. Tents have been cleared from the lot, and many residents are now living in local hotels while construction continues.
“The cause of homelessness is a catastrophic loss of community,” Moscoe said, “and the antidote is to build a community. So that’s what we’re doing out here.”