On a rainy day 20 years ago, five families, most staying at the Salvation Army’s family shelter, packed up their few belongings, took their children by the hand and became the first to walk through the South Austin door of Saint Louise House to start new lives.
That day – Oct.19, 2001 – is a milestone that then-Executive Director Sharon Bieser remembers well.
“We hired a moving company to pick up furniture being stored in donors’ homes throughout Austin and Pflugerville,” she recalls. “The last stop was St. Michael’s Thrift store. At the thrift store a donor, Kay Mooney, had pre-arranged for us to pick up whatever we needed. She then generously covered the cost. By the time the movers arrived in South Austin, it was after 5 p.m. and it was raining. It was a long, wet day, but we furnished five apartments and the first office that day. Over the next week or so, a small group of dedicated volunteers finished setting up the apartments for the families.”
When Saint Louise House opened its doors, it was focused on providing transitional housing with case management provided by and at other nonprofits. Today we provide case management and other support services on site and are able to house 46 families on two campuses. A total of 206 families have journeyed to Saint Louise House over the past two decades.
Our families arrived via different paths and with different struggles. But they have all shared a common goal – to leave homelessness behind, permanently, and build a better life for themselves and their children.
Now when families arrive at Saint Louise House, they are handed the keys to an apartment decorated by volunteers and fully furnished with donated furniture. A meal cooked by volunteers is ready for the first night’s dinner. The rooms are welcoming, and special attention is given to making children’s rooms inviting and cozy. For many of the children – who have only slept on air mattresses, in cars, at shelters or on couches at friends’ or relatives’ houses – it can be the first time they’ve ever had a place to call “home,” or even their own bed.
Here are some reactions our families have shared with us over the years:
What I remember most about Saint Louise House is how lovely the home was decorated when I first walked in. I had no furniture at the time. It really made me feel like my child and I had a home. There was even food in the refrigerator and a home cooked meal with brownies for the first night. When I think about it now, it still brings tears to my eyes.
What I was most excited and appreciative for were the beds. My boys and I had been sleeping on mattresses for years. … I cried so many tears of joy just looking at those beds, and even now as I’m recalling back to that day, I’m getting teary eyed all over again. To some, they may have just been beds, but for me and my boys, they were OUR beds, and Saint Louise House was our home.
When my son and I moved in, and I realized that the door that I had just closed behind me actually locked, I breathed freely for the first time in almost a year. I knew that I had finally found a home.
Our apartments are more than a home; they provide safety and stability – perhaps the first our families have known. This security frees both mothers and children to focus on the steps necessary to pull themselves and their children out of crisis, develop economic security, and leave homelessness behind for good.
And when the day comes, families move out with a van full of the contents of their Saint Louise House apartment to help them start their next chapter.
As we start our next decade, we invite you to help us welcome more new families to our community:
- Donate new or gently used furniture.
- Help fulfill our current needs for household items (and learn what items we can’t take), or check our Amazon Wishlist.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to volunteer with us.