DELANCEY STREET MOVING
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We’re a community where people with nowhere to turn, turn their lives around
Delancey Street is the country's leading residential self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom. Started in 1971 with 4 people in a San Francisco apartment, Delancey Street has served many thousands of residents, in 5 locations throughout the United States. Residents at Delancey Street range from teenagers to senior citizens, and include men and women and all races and ethnicities. The average resident has been a hard-core drug and alcohol abuser, has been in prison, is unskilled, functionally illiterate, and has a personal history of violence and generations of poverty.
The minimum stay at Delancey Street is 2 years while the average resident remains for almost 4 years – drug, alcohol and crime-free. During their time at Delancey Street, residents receive a high school equivalency degree (GED) and are trained in 3 different marketable skills. Beyond academic and vocational training, residents learn important values, and the social and interpersonal skills that allow them to live successfully in the mainstream of society.
Any act of violence, or threat of violence, is cause for immediate removal from Delancey Street. Interestingly, former gang members, who have sworn to kill each other, live and work together peacefully starting in dorm-rooms and moving up into their own apartments. Residents learn to work together promoting non-violence through a principle called “each-one-teach-one” where each new resident is responsible for helping guide the next arrival.
In 1971 Delancey Street began with 4 residents, a thousand dollar loan, and a dream to develop a new model to turn around the lives of people in poverty, substance abusers, former felons, and others who have hit bottom, by empowering the people with the problems to become the solution.
We began by taking residents into a small apartment in San Francisco, run by an ex-felon, John Maher, a visionary, fiery orator and charismatic leader. Rather than following the traditional non-profit model of hiring a staff and procuring funding, we chose instead to follow an extended family model. Those of us who could work did traditional jobs and contributed our salaries. (Mimi Silbert, for example, had a doctorate in Criminology and had numerous consulting, teaching and other professional experiences. She worked and contributed her salary.) Everyone did something to contribute to our community. Someone who could cook became our “head chef”. Someone who knew how to hold a hammer became the “head of construction”. Whoever could read tutored those who could not. We pooled our talents and our funds and within 2 years, we purchased our first building and had 80 residents, all learning, teaching and helping each other.
The first home we bought was the former Russian Consulate located in San Francisco’s poshest neighborhood, Pacific Heights. It was also our first “Not In My Backyard” battle. Our two young pro bono attorneys, Mike Berger (who incorporated our organization in 1971, and Danny Weinstein (now a retired Judge and founder of JAMS – The Resolution Experts) formulated innovative legal arguments; Maher developed brilliant political strategies; Silbert brought residents around to neighbors to volunteer services. We knew that neighbors were worried that crime would go up and property values would go down because we were in the neighborhood. So we patrolled the neighborhood and crime went down; our construction department renovated the mansion to ensure that property values would go up. Residents like Abe Irizarry (then a “graduate” of every prison in California and Mexican Mafia gang member, now our Vice president and Maitre’ D’ of our restaurant), and Joanne Mancuso (then an addict and now a college instructor and a trainer for the judiciary in the federal court in computer programs), and Mike Boris (then a heroin addict, now a Certified Public Accountant), sold raffle tickets where the most coveted prize was the promise “not to move next door to you”. Slowly the neighborhood battle was being won by being good neighbors, by solid legal arguments and political negotiation, by humor and by the good will of everyone involved. Dianne Feinstein, our neighbor in Pacific Heights, then a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the first key vote in our favor. By 1977, the battle was finally settled. When we moved from Pacific Heights to our newly self-built home on the waterfront (almost 20 years later), our Pacific Heights neighbors reported they were upset to see us leave.
When we began construction on our new home, then Mayor Feinstein offered support at every level. She turned over the first shovel of dirt at our groundbreaking, and in 1990 we completed construction of an expanded and centralized home on the waterfront. In the process, we pioneered a new neighborhood in San Francisco, South Beach. This 400,000 square foot complex was primarily built and supervised by Delancey residents. President Mimi Silbert was the developer and Delancey Street was its own general contractor for this unique development called “a masterpiece of social design” by Pulitzer Prize winning architectural critic Allen Temko. Covering an entire city block, this four-story complex contains street level retail stores, a highly acclaimed public restaurant, a screening room written up as one of the top three in San Francisco, a highly reviewed café bookstore and art gallery, dwelling units housing about 500 that overlook a Mediterranean-style courtyard which also holds a vast array of educational and recreation facilities for the residents. This was an unprecedented vocational training program, providing over 300 formerly unemployable drug addicts, homeless people and ex-felons in Delancey Street every skill in the building trades (with the support of the Building Trade Unions) as well as training in purchasing, contracting, computer and accounting services. City officials were so proud that, upon completion of our complex, they renamed a section of First Street – Delancey Street.
In 1978 we bought a 17 acre ranch within a reservation on the San Juan Pueblo, in northern New Mexico and opened our first “satellite” campus. We brought 15 residents from San Francisco, ranging in stay from 5 years to 5 months and using the same process we started with in San Francisco, whoever could cook became the head of Food Service, whoever had held a hammer became the Head of Construction.
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