Lazarus House, an emergency shelter in St. Charles, Illinois, first opened its doors in 1997. In the 24 years since then, its mission has always been to support individuals and families experiencing homelessness or those at risk of becoming homeless.

The organization has consistently expanded both their programming and the area they serve in response to community needs. “We added a Transitional Living Program, a Women and Children’s Day Center, and Homeless Prevention Programs,” shares Julie Purcell, Lazarus House’s Executive Director. “In addition, [Our] Food Only program provides up to 3 meals per day for struggling households and we have a de facto 24/7 crisis hotline for those needing help connecting to services.” 

Like many shelters, early on in the pandemic, Lazarus had to work hard to be able to safely provide services for those in need. The first challenge they had to overcome? Retro-fitting their rooms to comply with social distancing mandates. “Initially, our Emergency Shelter guests were moved to hotel rooms to ensure their health and safety,” Purcell explains. “[While] most felt much more comfortable with this option, for others, isolation was an additional challenge to what they were already experiencing.” 

While guests were in these temporary accommodations, shelter staff worked hard to transform their congregate living center. “The beds were moved 6 feet apart, air purifiers and Plexiglas shields were purchased, sanitizer stations were created, a new area was renovated to create more sleeping areas, PPE was procured, and the whole building was cleaned and put on a sanitizing schedule.” Not only did Lazarus implement these changes on the quickest possible timeline, they did so without pausing any of their other services. “[We] continued to provide daily meals, the means to do laundry, and case management.”

Paper plate with fruit, broccoli, and spaghetti and meatballs

Meal provided by Lazarus House’s Food Only program

Room full of evenly spaced blue cots

Lazarus House’s sleeping porch

When asked about moments during the pandemic where a community member or group really made a difference for their clients, Purcell says there were too many to count. Just one example is how they were able to pay for the shelter renovations at the height of the pandemic. “We did not have the funding in place to do [the needed renovations], but the next thing I knew we had a private donor calling to ask what we needed.” This level of community support is not uncommon for Lazarus House, which received over 30% of its funding last year from individuals alone. “[We] have an urgent needs list on our website and a loyal following on our Facebook page. The minute we have a need and note it on either of those platforms, our doorbell rings and we have what we need. We are so very blessed by our community!”
Outside of Lazarus House building, a small White House with porch

Outside of Lazarus House, based in St. Charles, IL

After everything that Lazarus House has faced during the pandemic, the staff and guests are looking forward to a more ‘normal’ future. “We are so looking forward to bringing back our volunteers. We miss them! This summer, we will be bringing in many of the support and educational groups that provide so much for our guests as well as having our shelter volunteers start again.”

The team at Lazarus House is also looking forward to providing different kinds of quality housing relief in the future. “We are excited to be in the investigative stages of creating some shared housing options for those we serve,” says Purcell. “This could provide affordable, independent housing for some of our guests that are ready to make the next step, but cannot find an apartment or room to rent within their budget.”