Fighting Homelessness with Health
Austin's Saint Louise House helps homeless women and children heal through the power of fitness
Editor's note: Each month, CultureMap features an exclusive story from Austin Fit Magazine. This month, in addition to the article below, the magazine features articles on how to stay healthy during the holidays and the best choices for winter workout gear. The December issue is on newsstands now.
Life’s little stresses always seem to mount in the details. Triggers are hidden in the subtlest of daily drills, like cross-town traffic, extended waits in the doctor’s office, or simply getting the kids to school on time.
Luckily, Jasmine* recently discovered running, and, on evenings and weekends, she and her daughter Jessica* head to a local park to go about the business of unraveling all that hustle and bustle. Jessica takes off on her little bike while Jasmine puts in her headphones and then puts one foot in front of the other.
Saint Louise House schedules classes that teach residents how to work out without going to the gym, using devices such as jump ropes and strength bands.
“For me, running is a stress reliever,” Jasmine says. “I can go off and listen to my music and just enjoy the scenery.”
Jasmine is a single mother living at Saint Louise House, which provides affordable and supportive housing for homeless women and their children. Founded in 2000, Saint Louise House aims to help its residents achieve self-sufficiency through work and improved education.
While all residents are required to work or attend school – or both – the Saint Louise House also provides its own kind of education. Executive Director Sharon Bieser says that, since 2010, Saint Louise House has incorporated a deliberate emphasis on health and nutrition.
“It’s very intentional, and it’s catching on,” Bieser said. “We want to empower women to make progress in their lives.”
The staff developed a self-care series, which teaches the effects of alcohol and tobacco, and also how stress can be managed through proper nutrition. Saint Louise House also offers a hands-on nutrition series, in partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank, which provides instruction on preparing time-saving recipes that are also healthy and affordable.
Clean food choices like whole-wheat pasta, frozen spinach, and peanut butter are always stocked in the facility’s pantry, and Saint Louise House schedules classes that teach residents how to work out without going to the gym, using devices such as jump ropes and strength bands.
Saint Louise House is also seeking partnerships with local gyms or fitness instructors to obtain memberships or training opportunities at reduced rates.
“The inherent blessing of the Saint Louise House is that it does not simply offer a handout – it provides a leg up,” said Kristin Armstrong, who is serving as the honorary chair of its annual fundraising event, “The Mother & Me Tea.”
“When I give of my time or treasure to the Saint Louise House, I can see for myself how my gift allows another mother to give more freely to her own children.”
Residents meet regularly with case managers to address the underlying causes of their homelessness. Life-skills training is an integral focus of these support services.
“We want to work with them where they are and build from there, which is why we focus so much on establishing goals and working toward them,” said acting program director Jenna Watkins. “We establish self-care goals, because we want them to see that it’s helpful, so they can learn to maintain wellness.”
Jasmine recently completed a couch-to-5K program through the YMCA, which culminated with the Run For the Water 5K option in late October. Now, she’s eyeing a 5-mile Turkey Trot with her sister in Houston and eventually a 10K.
“I feel accomplished because I stuck with it,” Jasmine said. “But I think I’m really doing this for my daughter. She’s started playing volleyball, and I want her to be active. So I need to set that example, I need to be active myself.”
*Names changed to protect privacy