Saint Louise House is celebrating its 20th year of serving women and their children who are experiencing homelessness. We’ve come a long way since the seeds of our existence were planted by a group focused on helping teenagers living on the streets near The University of Texas.
But the best way to tell any story is to start at the beginning…
In 1997, a small group of parishioners at Saint Austin Catholic Parish were meeting twice a month for prayer and support. All were engaged in some aspect of social justice work and were motivated by a spiritual call to serve the poor in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul, a 17th century Catholic priest who dedicated his life to serving the poor with humility.
Initially, the group – organized as VinCare Services – collaborated with other community service organizations and churches to serve youth living on streets near The University of Texas’ “Drag” to provide weekly meals, clinic services and shelter during freezing weather.
Soon they noticed that an increasing number of those seeking assistance at both Saint Austin’s and nonprofits around town were single women and children experiencing homelessness, according to Sharon Bieser, one of the early participants and the first director of what would become Saint Louise House.
“As a result of our observations, seven members of the group became very interested and wanted to address the need,” Bieser remembers. “After a few weeks of reflection and discussion, we made a decision to begin a community assessment. Early in the assessment we learned that our observations were accurate.”
The group decided to address the biggest need in Austin at the time – transitional housing, instead of shelter housing.
This vision was shared by the Daughters of Charity, a community of women then affiliated with Seton Hospital and with a lifetime of serving the poorest and most abandoned individuals. They pledged to provide $175,00 if VinCare Services raised $350,000. VinCare succeeded thanks to generous donors, many from Saint Austin’s.
“Addressing this largest need (for transitional housing) opened the doors to collaboration with other nonprofit housing providers and the City of Austin,” Bieser said. “We were soon overwhelmed with applications.”
Opened as Saint Louise House, we became the first and only nonprofit, at the time, to offer transitional housing.
Today we’ve evolved to offer supportive housing with an array services and programs that help the two generations in women-led families transition to stable and permanent housing.
Thanks to the foresight of our founders and our supporters over the years, Saint Louise House has been able to serve 204 families in the past 20 years – we look forward to carrying on and building on our legacy for years to come.