Joey Puszkas didn’t know where to start in listing what St. Lazare House has done for him.
in the community area of the apartment complex operated by Depaul USA,
he has come a long way in the past three months. Homeless for more than
two years, he lost weight from not eating and his mental state took a
“I couldn’t even communicate very well, I’d been alone for so long,” he said. “I was doing horrible things.”
age 17, Puszkas’ rebelled and the trust between him and his family
shattered. After a major family loss, he lost his way, picked the wrong
friends and put himself in harm’s way with drug and alcohol abuse.
Eventually he realized that his search for freedom left him trapped, and
his path led to the Catholic-based agency with a mission to end
homelessness and change the lives of those affected by it.
never met people as kind and helpful as I had when I got here,” Puszkas
said. “The first week I was here I hardly came out of my room. I was in
shock. I didn’t believe it could be as good as it was.”
reverted to old habits of not seeking to better himself, but the staff
helped him take a new path. They encouraged him to get a job. It took
him a bit — he had no respect for himself and didn’t want to get out
because he felt comfortable and safe from the outside world. But
eventually he did, getting a job, re-engaging in his Christian faith and
taking charge of his life.
“I had to work on myself a lot, even
to be able to go to work and get along with people, just getting over
being sad and depressed.”
He’s still working on it, though. “I’ve
accomplished more in three months than I had in the past three years. I
have a job. I could care less how much money I’m making. I really care
about how happy I am, and I can’t remember the last time I was this
St. Lazare House opened Nov. 6, and soon afterward all 15
one-bedroom apartments in the two-story brick structure were filled.
It’s part of the St. Louis City Continuum of Care homeless network and
houses single, unaccompanied adults, ages 18-24, who are considered
chronically homeless. Residents are referred to St. Lazare House by the
St. Lazare House has a staff member on site 24 hours a
day. The basement has a meeting room, large family room-type area and
kitchen in which residents gather informally or for community meals,
programs, classes and activities.
The apartments are the only
permanent, supportive housing specifically for the age group in the City
of St. Louis. “It’s a priority population for HUD because there are so
few services for this age group,” said Gretchen Shipp, program director.
programs for young adults are transitional or emergency shelters. St.
Lazare House has no limit on how long residents can stay there. The only
difference between it and any other apartment building is the staff and
“Tenants sign a lease. They get real-life experience
in how to be a good tenant, how to take care of an apartment, how to be
a good neighbor, stuff that they have no prior experience doing,” Shipp
Because of the supportive services, “we can do a lot of
training and guiding,” she said, simple things such as how to use a
laundry or a garbage disposal or learning the importance of smoke
Treatment plans focus on the needs of individual
residents. They’re connected with health care, mental health care,
recovery services and more depending on their needs.
Abernathy is a life coach on staff at St. Lazare. Many of the residents
haven’t made a doctor’s visit in several years, she said. Often they
have no income or benefits.
The residents are connected with
job-skills support, assistance with tutors helping them get a GED
(General Equivalency Diploma) if they haven’t finished high school or
other educational help. The aim is to help them get financial stability
and a support system so they will succeed when they move out into their
The chronically homeless young adults generally
have been moving from home to home, living on the streets or in homeless
shelters. “They don’t have a lot of life skills, how to fend for
themselves out there,” Shipp said. ”Almost everyone who comes in here
has a serious history of trauma. Along with that is a serious persistent
mental illness. Eighty percent of them haven’t been connected to any
A few residents don’t use drugs or alcohol but
the others have struggled with the issues related to substance abuse.
Learning disabilities are another factor sometimes. Many have been
homeless since early in high school, having been kicked out of their
homes. Some have been part of the foster care system. Some are still
connected to their families, though it’s generally a difficult
The two parishes in St. Louis staffed by
Vincentians, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Catherine Laboure, as well as
Society of St. Vincent de Paul conferences at parishes in south St.
Louis County have helped supply food and other items for the residents.
>> DePaul USA
USA operates two programs in St. Louis for chronic homeless adults
besides St. Lazare House, which focuses on young adults. Project More
and Project Plus place homeless men and women (about 75 currently) in
scattered-site apartments enabling them to focus on concerns beyond the
immediacy of shelter and meals. Case management targets transitioning
issues, relationships with neighbors and landlords, career development
Depaul USA is a national organization housing homeless people in six cities.
USA recently purchased two buildings on Arsenal Street in south St.
Louis from the Western Province of the Congregation of the Mission (the
Vincentians). Depaul USA has one building for safe housing for
low-income residents and converted one building into St. Lazare House.
With all-day care, residents receive physical and behavioral health
services, participate in education and training programs, and gain the
life skills necessary to become independent and productive community
members. Depaul USA is inspired by the values of St. Vincent de Paul, a
major social reformer in 17th-century France.
Donations are sought for the program in St. Louis. Visit www.us.depaulcharity.org or send a check payable to DepaulUSA at 2912 Arsenal St., St. Louis, MO 63118.
An open house will be held from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at St. Lazare House, 2912 Arsenal St. in south St. Louis.
>> A sanctuary for homeless young adults
For Akiah Booker, St. Lazare House is a sanctuary.
she arrived in November, she was homeless on and off since 2013. She
fell into depression twice after her mom died, and she couldn’t care for
her young daughter. She overstayed her time at various homeless
shelters, meant as temporary housing, and was sleeping at a bus stop.
When a health care caseworker told her she was set to get in the Depaul
USA’s apartments, she didn’t believe it.
“If it wasn’t for this
program, I don’t know where I’d be,” Booker said. “It was an awakening
to me that there’s people who’ll help youth who are homeless.”
She was willing to work, but the instability of her living arrangements made it impossible to get hired.
works at a large retail operation, purchased a car and is about to move
into an apartment with her daughter, who has been living with a
relative. Being in a stable place helped her overcome her problems.
Jones is a new resident at St. Lazare House but has impressed the staff
in a short time. The apartments “give us a chance to improve ourselves
by living on our own,” Jones said.
She’d been kicked out of a
place where she was living, put in jail, found another place and was no
longer welcome there. She called churches but couldn’t find a place that
would take her. Jones turned her fate over to God, “and He blessed me
with this,” she said. “God has a plan for each of us, and we just have
to keep pushing through the storm.”
She relates all she went
through to various stories in the Bible. “It was different tests He
(God) was sending me through. He wasn’t going to leave me out there
alone. I kept getting thrown out and didn’t know what I was doing