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Nurturing success and opening doors for Austin’s homeless women and children

Saint Louise House empowers homeless women with children by providing them the stable housing and wrap-around services they need to build self-sufficiency.

Housing

Families live in fully-furnished, two-bedroom apartments in two agency-owned apartment complexes. Rent is based on income and ranges from as low as $20 a month to no more than 30 percent of income.

Wrap-around services

The Saint Louise House program of wrap-around services ensures that basic needs are met and supports improvements in a family’s physical and mental stability. These services include on-site access to a food pantry, diapers, bus passes and utility assistance as well as individual and family counseling, assistance with accessing health care and connection with legal services for custody, child support, immigration and other issues. On-site access to these services reduces the burden for families, develops strong relationships between case managers and families, allows for more thorough assessment of and response to those needs, encourages integration and minimizes duplication of services.

Saint Louise House also supports family economic stability by empowering mothers. Case managers support mothers as they develop educational and employment goals and build skills such as writing a resume, interviewing and conducting job searches. Mothers have access to support for job retention including access to child care and transportation, job training and education. Mothers work with their case managers through the entire process of tracking expenses, developing a budget and planning for debt reduction and long-term saving.

Saint Louise House ensures that children have access to high quality childcare by educating mothers on what to look for in a childcare provider and providing support for applying for and maintaining subsidized child care.

Elementary-aged children can attend weekly psychosocial groups focused on social and emotional learning skills while mothers receive hands-on support advocating with their child’s school, attending meetings and navigating questions about medication, mental health and behavioral needs and supports. Saint Louise House children have access to funds for participating in extracurricular activities such as camps, sports or music lessons and participate in Operation School Bell to receive new school clothing and our own program for receiving school supplies. Middle and high school students participate in groups promoting social and emotional learning, safety and community among teens. They also participate in workshops on the college application and financial aid processes as well as community-building outings like hiking, golf and concerts.

Evidence-based approach

The solutions-focused case management approach used at St. Louise House is an evidence-based, strength-based model listed in the SAMHSA National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. This approach focuses on strengths and resources rather than barriers and deficits, build on what IS working for a family, looks for expectations to problems as paths to solutions, and uses goal setting and planning as a core path to program participation success. A trauma-informed care approach, recognizes the impact of trauma on families and the importance of transparency, working in partnership, empowering program participants, respecting their experience and creating an environment of safety and support.

Saint Louise House has more than 15 years of experience empowering women with children to overcome homelessness by providing them housing and wrap-around services. We have provided over 160 mothers a stable home and a case manager to partner with as well as the education, employment, parenting, legal and other support they need to develop self-sufficiency. This holistic approach to serving families has given over 330 children the opportunity to heal from the wounds of homelessness and, as one resident wrote, “have a normal life like any eleven-year old would have.”

Implementation

The partnership between mothers and case managers is at the heart of Saint Louise House and the primary point of contact for implementation of our program of wrap-around services. Every week mothers and case managers meet in the home or in the on-site program office to review progress on the past week’s goals and to set new ones. Every six months they review progress toward goals on their long-term service plans and adjust as necessary. Case managers make referrals and, when necessary, make phone calls and attend meetings with mothers until they’ve gained the skills and confidence to do so on their own. This case management approach of "doing for, doing with and cheering on" supports mothers as they build self-sufficiency.

The parent-child specialist provides specific support for parent and child development. This support takes the form of education and training for case managers, individualized parent coaching, the creation of additional resources and support for mothers and group activities for children. An additional staff member will allow for additional supports such as an afterschool drop-in center, more groups and activities and home visits.

Life skills workshops are offered on a weekly basis on-site or at a nearby church. For mothers, these groups cover topics ranging from financial literacy, to nurturing parenting, to auto maintenance and repair. While mothers participate in these groups, childcare is available for younger children and older children who participate in groups such as StarKids!, a weekly group supporting social and emotional learning in 6-12 year old children. Additional activities for children have included a middle school girls group as well as college prep workshops and other activities for older teens.

In addition to the individualized case manager partnership and weekly workshops and groups, wrap-around services are delivered through the on-site program offices. Mothers are welcome to drop in during office hours to access services such as the food pantry or bus passes as well as crisis management support. The offices also provide access to computers and copiers to meet educational and employment needs.

Within this structured program, Saint Louise House addresses every family’s needs on a highly-individualized basis so there is no uniform time limit for participation in our program. Within two-to-four years, most families are able to develop the tools and resources they need to thrive outside Saint Louise House.

Community need and target population

Children suffering housing instability are deeply impacted by a lack of connected, stable relationships in their lives. These children are sick more often and experience more emotional and behavioral problems, learning disabilities and developmental delays than housed children and are likely to continue in the cycle of poverty inherited from their parents. Over 80 percent of homeless families are led by women. These mothers cannot address the problems of their children on their own education, health or employment challenges because they are stretched too thin meeting the everyday challenges of what to eat and where to sleep.

Our target population is highly vulnerable, women-led, homeless families who do not fit into any other housing program: families who need more time and support than emergency shelters and traditional transitional housing programs can provide, but who do not need the income, background check, credit check or additional requirements of other supportive or affordable housing programs. These families have extremely low incomes and face complex challenges to overcoming homelessness. The average income at entry of Saint Louise House families was $10,000 a year. Over 40 percent have experienced multiple incidences of homelessness before finding stable housing with us, and almost 75 percent of current mothers are survivors of domestic violence.

Most families at Saint Louise House have experienced trauma, loss and instability and lack an effective support system. Despite those challenges, they display an incredible resilience, motivation and fortitude. For many mothers living at Saint Louise House, this is the first time they are able to consider their own needs and think about the future.

Saint Louise House strives to minimize barriers to entering the program. Homeless families are eligible if they are led by a single woman who has custody of at least one child under 18 and no more than four children living with her. Families must have some consistent, verifiable income, by no more than 50 percent of the Austin Median Family Income for their size family, and must be able to be willing to participate in case management and supportive services.

Over 50 mothers call Saint Louise House month after month to maintain their status on our waiting list.

Impact

Since our founding in 2000, Saint Louise House has provided stable housing and wrap-around services to 163 families with over 330 children. Over 90 percent of families served have maintained stable housing at Saint Louise House or exited to stable housing. After one year at Saint Louise House, families see an average 13 percent increase in their score on self-sufficiency across twenty domains.

For more information about Saint Louise House, visit them here: www.saintlouisehouse.org

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