ROME — Sitting off St. Peter's Square next to the Vatican, the beautiful 19th-century palace would have commanded top dollar if it were a hotel, but Pope Francis had other ideas, so it has been converted into a homeless shelter.
The Palazzo Migliori, named after the family who donated it to the Roman Catholic Church, had served as the headquarters for an order of religious women, who vacated it last year.
The Calasanziane order, which occupied the building for 70 years and used it to help and care for young single mothers, has since relocated to another location.
One option was to turn the building into a hotel, as it's just off St. Peter's Square, where popes deliver sermons to thousands of worshippers. The location is also very popular with tourists, who pay hundreds of dollars to stay close to it.
But Francis had a very different idea of the kind of guests he wanted for this prime location — the poor and the homeless.
After the building was renovated in November, it opened its doors to the homeless.
"Beauty heals," Francis said when he inaugurated the building at the time.
Mario Brezza, 53, told NBC News: "This place feels more like home. I have my own bed, room and bathroom. It's so different from the dormitories I have tried until now, where sometimes you feel like an animal in a crowded stable."
Brezza, who had a leg amputated because of a "serious circulatory disease," lives on a $300 monthly disability allowance. He is among 50 or so homeless men and women who now sleep in the palace's 16 bedrooms.
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Volunteers also provide them with hot meals.
Among them is Sharon Christner, 23 who traveled from Pennsylvania as part of a research project on homelessness and social issues.
"Even if they wanted to use it for charity, a lot of people would have rented this place out, make a lot of money and give it to the poor," Christner said. "But what is special about this place is that it's not about maximizing dollar signs but giving people a really beautiful place to be, with the idea that beauty heals."
Carlo Santoro, a member of the Sant'Egidio Community, a lay Catholic association in charge of many charitable projects linked to the Vatican, including Palazzo Migliori, said the place was a "real paradox."
"It is a beautiful palace next to St. Peter's Square and Basilica, and yet it's home to those who until recently did not have a house to go to," he said.