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June 4, 2024

Hope at Esperanza Community | Guest Perspective

by Christopher Carr
photos by Michael Davis

Editor’s note: In May 2024, members of the Austin Homelessness Advisory Council (AHAC) and Austin Youth Collective (AYC) toured Esperanza Community, a non-congregate emergency shelter complex in East Austin. Both groups are made up of people with lived experience of homelessness who advise on policies and programs related to homelessness in Austin and Travis County. The author and photographer were among the group that toured the property to better inform their work in our Homelessness Response System.

I am reminded as we approach the entrance that “they” would like to marginalize us, even make us disappear. I am thinking this way because what I had heard this place, formerly known as Camp RATT, was not positive.

Colorful tiny homes painted blue, beige, green, and yellow with small wooden decks

Upon arriving at the facility, we can see the landscape through the gate. I had fully expected to see alleys of stalls but instead row upon row of what look like life size monopoly houses, clad in corrugated steel, and painted all manner of pastel colors. 

We are greeted by a resident and David Gomez, an employee of the Other Ones Foundation. They are explaining to us how the camp facility evolved from its beginning into the facility it is now under the auspices of the Other Ones Foundation

On the right side of Esperanza’s main thoroughfare, we can see the Other Ones trailers and facilities which form part of the Other Ones other services, namely hygiene facilities and low barrier community oriented employment. We all hop on the Esperanza golf cart and begin our tour of the facility.

As we move along the thoroughfare, our guides tell us the footpaths are named for Grateful Dead songs. We stop at one row of houses where a unit is being prepared for a resident. We get a chance to step inside to look at the tiny home amenities at Esperanza. I remember my time on the street and briefly marvel at the basic outfit of a single unit. The Other Ones provide basic furniture, domestic supplies, and basic snacks. There is a stack of books on the table. I note one of the books is the “Four Agreements.”

“Do all residents get the same four books,” I asked Mr. Gomez. He said no and that the Other Ones wished to provide basic elements of a home. As well, the improved landscape and mutual support in this very neighborly community helps people to transition from their former condition to being a member of the American society at large. Mr. Gomez goes on to explain the low barrier of Esperanza and its unique service motive of no rent and a resident’s full knowledge that Esperanza is not permanent. Rather, residents are expected to “goal” their way out by having stable housing, neighbors, and a supportive infrastructure.

  • Large rounded metal frame with colorful tiny homes in front and "" in big letters on top
  • Mural showing longhorn on green lawn with Austin skyline painted like Texas flag
  • Street sign that says "Dancing in the St" with a tiny home in the background and peace, love, and happiness symbols
  • Mural of heart with wings and text that says "love lives here"
  • Hygiene facility with a mural on one wall that says "kinship" with painted houses

We’re in luck at Esperanza today because they are having a hamburger/ hot dog social in their commons area. It is expressly for residents so I ask how we might get a burger. They put us on a list, but had run out of supplies. They then assured that the facilitators were at HEB getting more beef and dogs.

While we are waiting, Mr. Gomez shows us the pods which are going to help elaborate various service infrastructures at the facility.

Toward the end of the tour Mr. Gomez shows us the day room with its attendants, access to necessaries, television, and computers. 

Strangely, I note that ordinary boring ceiling tiles have been replaced with charming translucent photographs of a cloudy blue sky. 

I remember looking the name of the facility up in my Spanish dictionary.

Esperanza means Hope in Spanish.

Exactly. Way to go Other Ones Foundation.

ECHO & AHAC Thank All of You

Group that toured Esperanza, including the authors, sitting at a picnic table smiling at the camera
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