When asked why Our Lady’s Inn’s mission was so dear to her heart, development director Jessica Faltus didn’t hesitate. “I’m pregnant with my third child. It’s a no-brainer for me,” she says. “I cannot imagine being pregnant and homeless. My husband and I struggle every day as parents, and we both work full-time. There are parents who are doing this with nothing. They don’t know where they’re going to sleep at night, how to feed their kids, what they’re going to do with their other children while they’re in the hospital or, in many cases, how to care for a newborn.”
Founded in 1981, Our Lady’s Inn provides a safe haven for expectant women and their children both during and after pregnancy. Far beyond just being a place to sleep at night, it helps clients finish school, teaches budgeting skills and nutrition, and provides vocational guidance, Faltus says. “We also teach them how to be moms,” she adds. “Some of them may already have kids, but that doesn’t make them a mom. They don’t all know what they are supposed to be doing. With our classes, we’re taking care of the kids of the future.”
Women come to Our Lady’s Inn from all kinds of backgrounds, be it from an abusive relationship, a history of drug abuse or just the troubles of being a single mother, Faltus says. She recalls one woman who came in with two children and a third on the way. “She was just the bright spot in everyone’s day,” Faltus remembers. “She was so positive, even though her situation was so horrible. She made you look at your own life and say, What do I have to be upset about? She was the one person who could have been grumpy and down, but she made everyone around her smile. And she took such good care of her kids.”
For those who come from a background of substance abuse, drug rehabilitation services are vital. “Sobriety means everything to a pregnant woman,” she says. “You have to be sober. It’s the only way to protect the baby.” Although more than 40 percent of the organization’s clients come to the shelter actively using drugs or alcohol, less than 1 percent of the agency’s mothers have given birth to a baby who is exposed to those harmful substances at birth. In fact, despite difficult circumstances, many of the outcomes of Our Lady’s Inn’s pregnancies are better than those of the area at large. While the area’s infant mortality rate is 13 deaths per 1,000 births, the rate for women staying at the shelter is less than 2 deaths per 1,000. The agency’s rates of pre-term births and low birth weights also are lower than the city of St. Louis’ rates in the general population.
The stability of the situation benefits the clients’ other children, as well, with school-age children boasting near-perfect attendance while averaging As and Bs due to support in homework, math and reading skills. And once women are ready to leave Our Lady’s Inn, the support doesn’t stop, Faltus says. “We provide transitional housing or help them get into an apartment. We continue to work with them for two years—longer if they need it. If the situation calls for it, we work to help them make amends with their family, and sometimes they’re able to return home once the baby is born. It’s all about preserving life and keeping families intact.” LN