We are 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.
What We Believe
First and foremost, we believe people can change. When we make a mistake we need to admit it and then not run from it, but stay and work to fix the mistake. And though no one can undo the past, we can balance the scales by doing good deeds and earning back our own self-respect, decency, and a legitimate place in mainstream society.
We believe that people can learn to live drug free, crime free lives of purpose and integrity. Rather than following a medical model or a therapeutic model, we’ve developed an educational model to solve social problems. We teach people to find and develop their strengths rather than only focusing on their problems.
Rather than solving one issue at a time (e.g., drugs or job skills) we believe that all aspects of a person’s life interact, and all people must interact legitimately and successfully with others to make their lives work. Delancey Street is therefore a total learning center in which residents learn (and teach) academics, vocational skills, and personal, interpersonal, practical and social survival skills. We believe the best way to learn is to teach; and that helping others is an important way to earn self-reliance. Person A helps person B and person A gets better.
Delancey Street functions as an extended family, a community in which every member helps the others with no staff of experts, no “program approach”. Everyone is both a giver and a receiver in an “each-one-teach-one” process.
Economic development and entrepreneurial boldness are central to our model’s financial self-sufficiency and to teaching residents self-reliance and life skills.
Delancey Street is value-based in a strong traditional family value system stressing the work ethic, mutual restitution, personal and social accountability and responsibility, decency, integrity and caring for others in a pro bono publico approach.
How We Work
We function as an extended family, rather than a more typical program. Our daily operations are not funded and we charge no fees. We pool all our resources. There is no staff. The whole place is run by the residents themselves. All money is funneled into the community, and each resident receives food, housing, clothing, education, entertainment and all other services at no cost.
Residents tutor one another to achieve a high school equivalency degree, followed by a 2 year liberal arts core curriculum. Residents may pursue college degrees.
We take applications from people who have hit bottom, from prison, jail or walk-ins. Residents who have been at Delancey Street awhile interview all applicants. The minimum stay is 2 years; the average stay is 4 years. We have 3 rules: no drugs or alcohol, no physical violence, and no threats of violence. The goal is to learn to lead a productive crime-free, drug-free life of purpose and integrity. Everyone learns a marketable skill (the goal is 3 skills), and earns at least a high school equivalency degree. Advanced education is available.
First we teach our residents personal skills: how to break old habits, how to get along with other people, particularly those different from us. Many have been homeless, so we teach basic hygiene. Most have never had jobs, so we teach basic work habits – showing up on time, listening to a boss, and getting along with coworkers.
When ready, residents enter one of our vocational training schools – where with training from more experienced residents, they start at the bottom and work their way up. In the restaurant, for example, one can go from dishwasher to prep cook to line cook to managing chef.
We offer tutoring to our residents to complete a high school equivalency education followed by college courses; and for those who stay 3 years we have our post secondary Academy accredited by the State of California. Delancey Street’s own residents do the teaching and tutoring. As in our vocational training, the method is “each-one-teach-one”. If you read at an eighth grade level, you can teach someone who reads at a sixth grade level – and you get better by helping others.
Delancey Street BusAs our academic and vocational training developed we began working on a semester system. Accordingly, like the best universities, people can take a “semester abroad”. Our bus goes from facility to facility each semester allowing someone who entered in New Mexico to spend a semester in New York and someone who entered in North Carolina to spend a semester in Los Angeles, etc.
We learn about ourselves and how to develop our strengths, not through therapy groups, but through actually practicing life skills, living, working, and interacting in the community. When mistakes are made, we learn to acknowledge them, take the consequences (our punishment is extra work, usually doing the dishes) and most importantly, because we are in a safe environment we can fix the mistakes. In this way, we replace old self-destructive habits with new strengths, talents, and a sense of responsibility.
When ready to graduate from Delancey Street, residents get a job and live in and work out for several months, saving their money in our Delancey-managed credit union, and paying rent until they can move on to continue their new lives in the mainstream of society.