“Mommy, they’re just like us…” By Karen Ranus

Blog Post written by Karen Ranus, SLH Volunteer Coordinator
Austin’s Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week – November 18, 2010

“Mommy, they’re just like us.”

Our eyes met in the reflection of the rearview mirror as I drove away from the 12-unit apartment complex off North Lamar called Saint Louise House (SLH). Eleven of the 12 apartments housed women and their children who’d experienced homelessness, living in shelters, cars, any place where they might keep their children safe. One apartment served as an office where we had played with the children for the previous hour and a half. She looked at me with her brown eyes sparkling. “Can we come back?” she asked in her small, high pitched voice. “You bet,” I smiled.

That was 8 years ago, and many things have changed…

My sweet little girl has blossomed into a beautiful teenager, an athlete, a lover of music and books, independent on most days, clingy on others. The 12-unit apartment complex has grown into two larger apartment complexes with the capacity to house 46 families. I “come back” almost every day now to Saint Louise House. After eight years of volunteering, I recently stepped into the role of coordinating SLH volunteers who believe, like me, in the limitless potential of families when they have a place to call “home.”

But, one important thing has stayed the same….

“…they’re just like us.” The mothers I meet at Saint Louise House are just like me. They prod their children to use good manners, worry that the runny nose and cough will mean another night without sleep, wonder how they’ll budget for the holidays when money is so tight. They talk to other moms when they’re at wit’s end. They fall into bed after all the kids are asleep, exhausted but thankful. They have hopes and dreams for their families, just like me. The simple yet profound observation of a 5-year old is the message I share when I talk about Saint Louise House in the community. I encounter good people with good intentions who have many preconceived notions of what homelessness looks like, and the truth is always this—“They’re just like us.”