A residential, self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless, and others who have hit rock bottom, Delancey Street started in 1971 with just four people in a tiny San Francisco apartment. Serving thousands of residents today in five locations throughout the United States, residents range from teenagers to senior citizens, both men and women, of all races and ethnicities. Most struggle with hard-core drug and alcohol addiction, have served time in prison, are unskilled and/or functionally illiterate, have a personal history of violence, and suffer from generations of poverty.

Residents stay at Delancey Street for at least two years. Most remain for up to four years – all drug, alcohol, and crime-free. During their stay, residents receive a high school equivalency degree (GED) and receive training in three different, marketable skills. Beyond academic and vocational training, residents also learn important values and the social and interpersonal skills to live successfully in mainstream society.

Any act of violence, or threat of violence, becomes cause for immediate removal. Interestingly, former gang members, many of whom have sworn to kill each other, live and work peacefully, side-by-side. Residents learn to grow together, promoting non-violence through a principle they call “each-one-teach-one,” in which the “older” residents take responsibility, not just for their own personal growth, but also as mentors for new clients.


Interesting side note: Saint John’s, when considering the launch of its first social enterprise –  Plates Café and Catering – sent several staff members including myself and our lead volunteer for the project to Delancey Street for an intensive, two-day training session. We have sent several staff and board members since. We also incorporated many of the Delancey Street principles, including “each-one-teach-one” into Saint John’s, and many of those principles remain in place today.