Zacchaeus House helps homeless men get lives back on track

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Zacchaeus House, located at 12242 S. Parnell Ave., is a not-for-profit, non-treatment home for men, providing a safe, supportive and spiritual home to those in transition. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For men who find themselves without a place to turn, Zacchaeus House can be a lifesaver.

Started in 2002 as a ministry of Chicago deacons with the support of Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, the home aims to offer a safe place for single, homeless men who are looking for a fresh start, said Deacon Alfred Coleman, the home’s director.

The not-for-profit home on the far South Side offers men a stable place to stay and social support for two years so they can get their lives back on track, Coleman said.

All nine of its rooms are full, Coleman said, and have been for the past several months. Some of the men were referred to the home by priests who knew they needed help, others learned of it through family and friends, and others heard about it from people they met on the streets, Coleman said.

“The first thing we do when a man comes in is sit down with him and see where he’s at and what he needs,” Coleman said. “Then we try to find the resources to fill those slots.”

Some are in poor health, he said. Some have suffered from addictions. While Zacchaeus House is not a recovery home, prior substance abuse is not a barrier to entry.

“They need to be clean when they come here,” Coleman said. “And they need to be able to walk, to get up and down the stairs.”

Some need training to get a job, or time to finish an educational program.

“After they adjust to the house, we assign each one a deacon mentor, someone who can share their life experience,” Coleman said. “So they’re hearing words of support in a different voice.”

Food is provided, but each man is responsible for preparing his own meals and cleaning up after himself, since many of them work different hours, Coleman said.

“The goal is for them to learn to be independent and have a source of income so they can get their own place when they leave,” Coleman said. “That could be getting a job, or if a guy is disabled, it could be getting Social Security.”

Jovon Allen came for the first time in 2006, when the house was still under the direction of one of its founders, the late Deacon Abrom Salley. Allen was 26 and had been living with his grandmother, who was selling her home. She knew Salley and told Allen to talk to him.

Allen stayed at Zacchaeus House for a short time, then left for a job in Texas. Three years later he moved back to Chicago and ended up homeless when his father died. He called Zacchaeus House and met Coleman.

“He changed my life,” Allen said. “After talking to him, I knew that whatever I did from that moment on, I had to make some real life choices and decisions. It was one last chance to get my life together.”

Allen remembers when Coleman gave him a key to the house.

“It was the best feeling in the world, to know I wasn’t going to have to sleep on the street or ask to stay at other people’s places,” he said.

Allen started going to school and working. He finished a bachelor’s degree in human services at University of Phoenix’s Chicago campus, and now he’s working on a master’s degree in business administration at Ashford University. He works at the American Airlines’ Admiral Club at O’Hare International Airport and also is on the board of the Near North Health Center and active in other community groups, work he started after learning that his father had HIV.

He remains in contact with Zacchaeus House and brings Christmas gifts to all the alumni every year, he said.

Larry Campbell, who spoke at a September fundraiser, says the same thing. He had been living a comfortable middle-class life before health and family problems snowballed and left him on the verge of homelessness in 2011. His pastor suggested Zacchaeus House.

“It’s not being dramatic to say I might not be here without Zacchaeus House,” said Campbell, who was able to get back the things he had lost, including his relationship with his family.

He now is president of the pastoral council for his parish, Sts. Peter and Paul, 12433 S. Halsted St., and on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. Last year, he was honored with a Bishop Quarter Award for his contributions to the archdiocese in Vicariate VI.

None of that would have happened without Zacchaeus House, which is one of the few places that provides stable housing for homeless men between the ages of 18 and 65, he said.

“To many of us, it’s too simple to pigeonhole people who are homeless,” Campbell said. “We think they’re lazy and no good. Most people experience the homeless when someone comes up to them on the street and asks them for help. That’s all they see. They don’t see the men and women and the kids.”

While Zacchaeus House has the support of the deacons and Bishop Perry, it receives no archdiocesan funding. Donations of money are always appreciated, and the website,, has a wish list of items that are always needed.

But Coleman said he’d also encourage Catholics to pray for the men there and everybody who is homeless.

“Pray for their protection,” Coleman said, “And for God to give them patience and wisdom. It’s very hard for a guy in his 50s to start over when he can carry everything he’s got in his two hands.”