Austin Food Carts Provide Economic Opportunity for Homeless People

A ministry in Austin has created a new way for homeless people to earn a living, by combining food carts with compassion. Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF) has four Street Treats food carts, vending water, coffee, ice cream and other snacks.

Here’s how their model works. Homeless people get to operate a cart for the day. After paying back the wholesale cost of supplies, these new entrepreneurs get to keep all profits and any tips from selling. According to a local news station, some homeless entrepreneurs are even able to earn $22 an hour. As one patron put it, “it goes along with the whole spirit of South by Southwest…and getting people back on their feet.”

As the Institute for Justice documented in its policy report, Street of Dreams, Austin doesn’t suffer from anti-competitive restrictions that stifle entrepreneurship, as many other cities do. As a result, Austin is well-known nationwide for its flourishing street food scene, with some 1,200 food trailers in 2012.

This isn’t the first time mobile vending has provided relief to those in need. In New Orleans, The Atlantic Cities noted “the presence of food trucks was invaluable in the months after Katrina, when they popped up to feed clean-up crews and construction workers who couldn’t leave their sites to dine out.” Back in November 2012, the Institute for Justice reported that mobile vendors in New York City cooked over 11,000 hot lunches to donate to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

-- Nick Sibilla

Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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