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Linda Broch has lived at Assisi House, a former convent at Our Lady of the Holy Cross in the Baden neighborhood of St. Louis, since 2021. “I try to form a lot of unity in here,” Broch said. “We’re all coming from a very difficult time. … We’re all coming from different backgrounds.”
Linda Broch has lived at Assisi House, a former convent at Our Lady of the Holy Cross in the Baden neighborhood of St. Louis, since 2021. “I try to form a lot of unity in here,” Broch said. “We’re all coming from a very difficult time. … We’re all coming from different backgrounds.”
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Former convents, rectories give men and women a place to call home via Assisi House

Assisi House transforms former convents, rectories into communal homes for those facing homelessness

Linda Broch’s life was in a tailspin.

A successful career in nursing was punctured by several life circumstances, including a breakup with a boyfriend while helping him after he was diagnosed with cancer. She developed health issues of her own and turned to alcohol. Broch eventually lost her job and home.

“Every day was a nightmare — there were so many things building up,” she said.

Through a connection at a sobriety house, Broch met someone at St. Patrick Center who told her about Assisi House. The nonprofit organization, which began 10 years ago as an extension of the St. Louis Winter Outreach, offers housing in small, communal settings for those who are homeless or facing housing insecurity.

Paul Lynch, left, gave Robert Gibson a ride to a pharmacy on Feb. 22 in St. Louis. Lynch is Gibson’s accompaniment partner through Assisi House at the former convent at St. Pius V Parish in St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
In January, Assisi House opened its sixth home in the former rectory at Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of St. Louis. (Last year, the parish joined with two others to form St. Josephine Bakhita Parish.) The home is at capacity with 13 female residents.

Assisi House also has four homes for men, including the former convent at St. Pius V Parish in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of St. Louis; a renovated two-family home in Jeff-Vander-Lou; and two homes in the old convent and rectory at the former St. Philip Neri Church (now owned by North City Church of Christ) in the Mark Twain neighborhood of St. Louis.

A second home for women is located at the former convent on the campus of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in the Baden neighborhood of St. Louis, where Broch serves as the resident manager. She’s known for sharing wisdom with the nine other women living with her and enjoys cooking meals for the house and helping at a nearby community garden.

“We have safety and somebody to talk to,” said Broch, who has been sober for nearly three years. “I like the concept of group living. It’s a great way to live. Once you’ve got safety met, you can go on and tackle other problems.”

Assisi House’s first home began as a winter shelter in 2014, housing 27 men from November through March. The effort grew out of the St. Louis Winter Outreach, which provides blankets, shelter and transportation to emergency shelters during severe winter weather conditions. The first home was the start of a pattern of repurposing mostly vacant convents and rectories to become affordable housing.

Deborah Sheperis, one of the St. Louis Winter Outreach volunteers who helped open the first Assisi House in 2014, said the idea was to help people off the streets during the brutal winter months and offer them a place to lay their heads every night and store their personal belongings. Volunteers would provide meals, a bus ticket in the morning and resources to help them stabilize their lives.

“We got about halfway through that winter and said, this building is too good to give up,” said Sheperis, now an Assisi House board member. “Organically, we said what can we do to keep it? We decided if we could charge a low rent for 13 residents, it would pay our lease and utilities and we could make it happen with our volunteer corps.”

After the first year, the group began a more intentional approach with the opening of its second home in Baden, a former convent housing 10 women. Several more homes were opened in the following years. There are 73 residents living among the six homes; a capital campaign will launch this spring to help raise funding to open at least two more homes by the end of 2025.

Assisi House offers a low-cost housing solution, which, for some residents, is a means of transition as they stabilize their lives. For others, it’s a more permanent option, said Megan Armentrout-Steward, who was hired in 2019 as program and volunteer director and became the organization’s first executive director in 2023.

Robert Gibson sat on the porch at the Assisi House location at the former convent at St. Pius V Parish.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Most residents pay $275 monthly for a private bedroom with communal bathrooms, kitchen and living space. Assisi House primarily works with agencies such as St. Patrick Center, BJC, Places for People, Independence Center and ARCA to receive referrals. Assisi House also has received grant funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal through the Archbishop’s Charity Fund.

“If someone needs just a place to live, it can be that for them. And then there are folks who need more support,” Armentrout-Steward said. Staff and volunteers help residents obtain ID cards, secure transportation and get connected to health care and mental health help, if needed.

“We are following the trajectory they are setting in some ways, and in other ways we come in and say, we see that you’re struggling — maybe these resources could be helpful,” she said.

Board member Jerry King said it takes different agencies and organizational models to address the issue of homelessness. “Assisi House has a unique niche in that provision of services and housing. We’re a scattered site, we’re small, and we don’t have people coming in and out every day,” he said.

Volunteers assist in other ways, including property construction and maintenance and as accompaniment partners. That could include helping a resident with a resume or budget, running errands, cooking a meal together or just visiting with one another.

Paul Lynch and his wife, Melody Gee, became friends with Robert Gibson, who moved into the Assisi House next to St. Pius V Church almost three years ago. Gibson had been living in a tent near the Mississippi River when a volunteer with Saint Louis University’s St. Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry with the Homeless told Gibson about Assisi House.

Lynch was serving on the parish council at St. Pius when then-pastor Father Paul Niemann brought to them the idea of turning the former Precious Blood Sisters’ convent into a community home for men who were unhoused. Parishioners worked together to gain the support of neighbors.

“St. Pius is an open, diverse community that is committed to putting faith into action,” Father Niemann wrote in a letter of support for Assisi House. “The proposal to open an Assisi House was strongly supported by the parishioners. It helped bring parish members together, working on a common goal for the common good. Individual parishioners shared how Assisi House opened their eyes and hearts.”

Parishioners often bring meals over, while others make regular visits with residents. Lynch and Gee have invited Gibson to their home to share a meal, and have helped with appointments and picking up prescriptions. Sometimes Lynch will call Gibson and invite him for a cup of coffee.

“He’s family,” Gibson said, tearing up. “I love him and his wife — they’re like family and they’ve busted their butts to help me out. It’s great here. I love living with other guys in the community.”

>> Assisi House fundraising campaign

Assisi House operates six homes across St. Louis, housing 73 residents in small, communal settings of 10-14 individuals. Residents pay an affordable rent and receive accompaniment and support from staff and volunteers to address their self-identified goals.

Assisi House recently launched a campaign to raise $1.25 million in the next two years to open two more homes, hire two full-time staff and establish an unrestricted endowment fund to sustain the organization in perpetuity.

To make a donation, visit www.assisihouse.org/donate. Checks may be mailed to Assisi House, attn: Special Campaign, P.O. Box 300112, St. Louis, MO 63130.

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