Saint Louise House helps women and kids transition out of homelessness

Carolyn Parmer , Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 14 flipbook. 

Twenty years ago, Saint Louise House opened its doors to five homeless families to help homeless moms and their children build life skills and find permanent housing. Today, the nonprofit can house up to 46 families with over 100 children. 

On just one night in 2020, 2,506 people experienced homelessness in Austin, according to ​​the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. Saint Louise House, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, helps women find permanent housing.

“From the very beginning, I have always loved Saint Louis House,” said Maria Kiehn, director of community support. “But more than even just the mission, because there are so many organizations that are doing really great work in our area, I love the entire sense of community around Saint Louise House.”

With the help of volunteers, Saint Louise House has furnished 205 apartments and embraced over 653 mothers and children over the past 20 years. Families who come to the facility stay in a fully furnished apartment for as long as they wish and work with staff on their individual needs. 

“Eighty percent of our families have experienced domestic violence,” Kiehn said. “They’re already so strong, but so often they see only their failures and the situation that they are in. Our job is to help them, … see how strong they are, what talents they have and how they can use those to reach their goals.”

Saint Louise also hosts Star Kids, a program where volunteers play with the kids, which members from Texas Spirits, a UT spirit group, and Phi Chi Theta, a UT business fraternity, frequently attend.  

Julia Mitterer-Claudet, a neuroscience and Plan II senior, said her time volunteering at Star Kids with Texas Spirits taught her to listen to the organization’s needs and go where it needed her.

“We kind of acted like babysitters,” Mitterer-Claudet said. “While we were taking care of the kids, the moms were doing financial literacy classes or going shopping or interview prep, just all the stuff they needed to do in order to continue to progress … that they normally can’t do since they’re watching the kids.”

Saumil Khadilkar, a management information systems senior and Phi Chi Theta’s philanthropy chair, volunteered at Saint Louise’s Fourth of July celebration. He said he learned to appreciate the unplanned moments with the kids.  

“What sticks out isn’t these thoroughly planned games (that are) super organized (where) you’re having to put on, what I would describe as fake energy and fake enthusiasm,” Khadilkar said. “If you’re just chill and you hang out with them, they really appreciate that.”

Kiehn said the resilience of the women who come through Saint Louise House constantly amazes her. Many of them write letters of gratitude to the staff after they move out of the facility. 

“The first thing that I’m always, always struck by is that the mothers who come to Saint Louise House are already amazing before they get here,” Kiehn said. “They are so strong, and they have faced down so many challenges and held their families together through it all.”