AMES, Iowa — Local and national experts on housing and homelessness will come together in a symposium Wednesday, April 5, in Ames.

“We Are All in This Together: Building a Community-First Approach to Ending Homelessness in Central Iowa” is a half-day event featuring keynote speakers and a student exhibition highlighting approaches to housing the unsheltered and insecurely housed individuals and families in our communities.

Hosted by the Iowa State University Department of Community and Regional Planning with support from the Gordon Family Endowment, this year’s symposium is organized by Jane Rongerude, associate professor of community and regional planning, whose research focuses on the redevelopment of public housing and urban systems of poverty management.

Free registration

The free event will be from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, in the Speer Room and Classroom at Reiman Gardens in Ames. Participants are asked to register online for breakfast and/or lunch by Tuesday, March 28, to provide an accurate count for meals. Registrations will continue to be accepted after March 28.

The morning will include talks by Alan Graham, founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes and the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, and Taylor Cook, formerly the founding executive director of Farmshare Austin and currently a PhD student in planning at the University of Texas at Austin. During lunch, participants can experience a student exhibition on housing insecurity challenges.

About the speakers

Alan Graham believes everyone, unsheltered or not, deserves a purposeful life and to feel valued. He has received national recognition for his work in Austin, Texas, where he has created the Community First! Village and the Mobile Loaves and Fishes program.

In the Community First! Village, as many as 20% of the residents are people who have been able to successfully keep themselves sheltered throughout their lives, but want a living environment where people accept each other where they are. Graham argues that to make a permanent difference for those who are the most vulnerable among us, we must reinstate care and community as central societal values.

In her work with the Austin Homeless Advisory Council (AHAC), Taylor Cook has found significant benefits to engaging people with lived experience in consultation with city staff — shaping and improving policies and programs, and enhancing staff members’ empathy and care by creating opportunities for collaboration and shared understanding with residents.

Cook is a PhD student in community and regional planning at the UT Austin whose research focuses on housing and homelessness. Before enrolling at UT, she was the founding executive director of Farmshare Austin, a healthcare policy consultant for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and a project manager for the City of Austin. She currently serves on the board of the Texas Homeless Network and is active in local and statewide homeless advocacy.

About the exhibition

College of Design students in the “More than Poor and un/Housed: Designing Abolitionist Spaces of Care” spring elective studio course will present an exhibition that highlights the structural challenges contributing to housing insecurity for a growing number of people in our communities. A series of installations will respond to the specific housing insecurity challenges faced by groups of people: youth, cis and transgendered women, families and veterans.

The multidisciplinary studio is co-taught by Rongerude and Julie Stevens, associate professor of landscape architecture, an expert in the field of trauma-informed environmental design. The class includes 19 students majoring in landscape architecture, interior design, community and regional planning and architecture.


9-9:30 a.m. Light breakfast

9:30-10 a.m. Welcome and introductions

Speer Room

10-11 a.m. Alan Graham: Building Community First

Speer Room

11-11:15 a.m. Break

11:15 a.m.-noon Taylor Cook: Putting Community into Practice

Speer Room

Noon-1 p.m. Lunch and student exhibition


1 p.m. Adjourn



Jane Rongerude, Community and Regional Planning, jrong@iastate.edu
Julie Stevens, Landscape Architecture, jstevens@iastate.edu
Saylor Upah, College of Design Events, upahsay@iastate.edu
Heather Sauer, College of Design Strategic Communications, hsauer@iastate.edu