Here at Triple Pundit, we talk a lot about the importance of sustainability. Through our articles we strive to highlight the importance of the triple bottom line. One of the three pillars of sustainability is people, typically covered in terms of how the actions of corporate America impact the human element. This story about the Delancey Street Foundation is different. At this residential, self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom, the mission is to help human beings find their potential for long-term maintenance and well being. Effectively, fostering human sustainability.
Started in 1971 with 4 people in a San Francisco apartment, Delancey Street has served many thousands of residents in five locations throughout the U.S. The minimum stay at the Foundation is 2 years, during which residents must stay drug, alcohol and crime free. During their time residents can receive their GED and are trained in 3 marketable skills. Residents learn about themselves and develop their strengths, not through therapy groups, but through the practice of life skills like living, working and interacting with the community in a positive manner.
Delancey Street is considered by many to be a pioneer of social entrepreneurship. The organization has created 12 successful ventures that are run by residents trained through the program. Ventures include restaurants, catering, private car service, digital printing, furniture making, landscaping, and specialty advertising sales.
The accomplishments of those at Delancey are impressive and inspirational. Over 10,000 formerly illiterate people have received their GED and over 1,000 have graduated with a diploma from Delancey’s 3-year (accredited) vocational program. Over 12,000 violent, racial gang members have moved away from gang related violence and over 8,000 have mentored others by teaching non-violence through inter-racial mediation.
Delancey’s President, Mimi Silbert, also recognized as a national expert in criminal justice, has a resume that describes a highly motivated, intelligent and compassionate leader, dedicated to turning those people that are the “problem” into people who solve problems.
This model, however, has inherent obstacles and challenges. The foundation is primarily funded with operating income generated by pooling the money from resident-run initiatives, like moving and catering. The continuation of their mission means that they rely on people that have no skills, historically poor track records and that are relatively self absorbed, to keep the organization going. This has not always been easy.
You can see that their success comes by providing habitual drug users, directionless criminals and the disengaged homeless with something that is a common thread amongst most positive members of society….hope. Those without hope are destined to circle through the revolving door of crime and poverty. Mimi Silbert has found a way to help end this cycle.