The Gift of Casa Marianella

The Gift of Casa Marianella

Truly Taking Care of the “Least of These”

Casa Marianella is Austin’s only homeless shelter dedicated solely to immigrants and refugees. 65% of the shelter’s residents, including children, are asylum seekers, many of whom come from immigration detention.

The shelter cares for an average of 325 individuals annually by providing housing, access to legal and medical resources, food, clothing, and English classes to homeless immigrants. Across two facilities in East Austin residential neighborhoods, the needs of men, women with children, and whole families escaping violence are met. Since opening its doors in 1986, the refugee population has evolved from caring for survivors of the Salvadoran Civil War to helping asylum seekers refugees and other immigrants from more than 40 countries.

My Story with Casa Marianella

I discovered Casa Marianella a few years ago after speaking with UCC members about how I could help refugees living in Austin. When I brought some donations over to the shelter, I met several staff members and a number of the residents. I was astonished to see how every square inch of sleeping and kitchen space is used to accommodate all the refugees.

A large map on the main wall traces the routes the current residents took to arrive in the United States to seek asylum. The residents offered glowing praise for the welcome and care they received at Casa Marianella.

That day, I had the pleasure of meeting Jenifer Long – the saint who runs Casa, with the help of a remarkable staff.  Honestly, I can’t imagine where she gets all her creativity and energy, if not directly from the Divine.

Fast forward to 2016. The UCC Outreach Council was asked to identify where we could best donate funds to the most disenfranchised and most in need in our community. Because of its work with Austin refugees, Casa Marianella emerged as the best recipient. UCC purchased beds for a new house just around the block from the shelter’s original building. Now a bustling house called Casa Salaam that complements Posada Esperanza, this new facility is designed specifically for newly immigrated mothers and their children.

Creating the Space for Success

In 2017, Casa Marianella started a Host Program, one structured around steps that provide very clear guidelines for both the resident and the host:

1) A resident spends three months learning how to get around Austin, how to fill out forms, get their health care and English lessons.
2) After this, the resident can go to a host family’s home for another three months to further integrate into the Austin community.
3) After those three months, the resident can either move to their own housing or return to Casa.

My family has enjoyed having an Eritrean and three Venezuelans stay with us over the last six months, and we are looking forward to hosting more next year. It’s been fun and a huge learning experience for us all, and we’ve discovered the delights of Eritrean and Venezuelan food!

I’d like to close with one family’s recent story lifted from the shelter’s website:

Our home for women and children, Posada Esperanza of Casa Marianella, recently helped reunite a family from Congo. The father and his six-year-old daughter came to immigration at the US/Texas border and asked for asylum. At that point, immigration took the child away from the father, put the father in detention, and sent the daughter to an organization in Chicago that serves unaccompanied minors. Three weeks later the mother arrived at the US/Texas border to ask for asylum. She was heavily pregnant. They detained her but just for a few days. They wanted to release her and asked Posada Esperanza of Casa Marianella if we had room to take her. We took her in, and soon learned that she was in extreme mental/emotional pain, as she had no idea where her daughter was.

We started making calls, and two days later we made contact with the organization in Chicago who said they had the child. From there, the organization told us of the documents and photos that the mother must provide in order to prove that she is the mother. Many of the items are things that she had to get by contacting people in Congo to send images. The organization followed up with requests for more documents, clearer images of certain documents, translations into English of the documents, etc. All of this back and forth and waiting on their responses took about two weeks. Meanwhile, the father was released from detention, and we moved the mother and father into Casa Salaam, our house for two-parent immigrant families. During the five weeks that we waited to get the child back, the mother and child were granted two 30-minute phone conversations.

It was essential that the mother had a place to live in order for the Chicago agency to return the child. What would a parent do who didn’t have stable housing or simple access to make all these scans, emails, translation, and calls? It took a lot of logistical navigating, and we are so thankful for our Posada staff who have worked tirelessly over the past 5 weeks to reunite this family.

Finally, the daughter was flown from Chicago to Austin. Mom and Dad were dressed in their Sunday best and filled with anticipation to finally have their daughter back with them. Casa Marianella will continue to provide this family with shelter, food, legal services, and everything they need to heal.

To me, that says it all.  God bless Casa Marianella.