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Alan and Brad at Delancey Street

This is a menu of the topics on this page (click on any): Intake    Maintenance and Immigration    Accountability and Peer Groups    Earned Privileges    Seminars    Religion    Limited Outside Communications    Recreation    Education    Marketable Skills    Rotation    Moving School    Christmas Trees    Workouts    Comments by Residents    Operations that did not succeed    Finances    Locations    Organization   .

Alan glanced at the Golden Gate Bridge looming over his right shoulder and rang the doorbell at 600 Embarcadero Street. A man unlocked the door ¹ and Alan said, "I want to apply to live here." Alan ² knew that if he was not accepted he would be right back in prison. About every three days, someone like Alan gets accepted. About once a month someone who has not been in the criminal justice system gets accepted.

Almost 400 residents live in this "Triangle", as they call it, three city blocks of upscale housing in an attractive neighborhood that was run down before this inviting micro-city- within-a-city was built by the residents themselves.


Alan was introduced fairly quickly to Brad. Intentionally, Brad was the same gender and race. Brad welcomed Alan to Delancey Street. Brad would become responsible for keeping up with Alan throughout his stay at Delancey Street. Brad explained to Alan that there would be two additional people at his "intake" interview. But first he took Alan to the barber shop to get a haircut and shave and some good clothes for the interview.

Alan would have to commit to live there two years. There were three rules: (1) no violence, (2) no threat of violence, and (3) no drugs or alcohol. Violate any one of these and you're out.

All three interviewers were men (women are interviewed by women). The most experienced interviewer would make the final decision whether to admit Alan. The other, semi-experienced, was the same race as Alan. He put Alan at ease and did most of the interviewing and probing; sometimes he shouted at Alan. Brad was the least experienced but he also pitched in from time to time.

They had an interview form ³ , but didn't use it much. The form was to make sure they found out whether Alan had ever been involved in "Sexual Offences, Molestations, or Rapes", "involved or arrested/convicted of Arson", was taking "any prescription medication", "ever had any mental health counseling", "had ever been on psychiatric medication", and had ever "attempted Suicide." Any of these conditions would indicate that Alan might need psychiatric help residents could not provide and he would be referred to some other agency. There's no medication stronger than ibuprofen in Delancey Street (DS). Anyone who is turned away can reapply after one year. There is no waiting list.

If Alan had been an extreme violent offender, that would not have ruled him out.

The interviewers were looking for Alan's accountability and honesty. They wanted to be sure he was committed to changing his life and would work hard to achieve it. The three interviewers met privately at the end of the interview and shared their impressions. Alan was accepted.

Maintenance and Immigration

Alan was assigned, like everyone new, to waiting on tables in the dining room. Anyone who had tattoos would have to wear long sleeves to cover them up. He started off in a dorm with seven other men. Women start off in dorms of four or five.

For several months Alan was in this first phase called "Maintenance" with about 120 residents. Waiting on tables he had Carl as a "crew boss". He did well, sometimes working 17 hours a day, and earned the right to enter the second phase, "Immigration", which would have more challenging work assignments.

No one gets paid at DS. The organization is run completely by residents. There is no paid staff. DS is a work and education model with an extended family, to solve social problems. It has 20 business training schools, mostly labor intensive.

Accountability and Peer Groups

In the evenings Alan attends several meetings of peer groups every week. The people who began around the same time as Alan make up one of his peer groups. The people he works with are another. There are no secrets. Everyone is on the same page. If someone acts in a way that could show some improvement, it comes out from their peers in these meetings. Alan might not accept what someone says about him, but some other person might say it in a way that gets through to him. These meetings give everyone a chance to vent whatever issues they have. For quite a few months, Alan never spoke in these meetings. The whole experience is a culture shock for many. You hear the expression, "Everyone is accountable", very often.

Some of the peer groups are called "minions" and some are "tribes". Each has a supervisor.

Earned Privileges

Brad has been there a year and a half, and he now shows leadership in these meetings. He just started receiving some "walk around money" (about $40 a month). He doesn't have much to spend it on, so he puts most of it in the DS credit union. Soon, Brad will decide whether to apply to stay longer than two years. Average residency is about 3-1/2 years. About ten people have earned and made a lifetime commitment. Two recently got married and have their own private quarters.

After 30 days, Brad was allowed to write his parents to tell them where he was and that he was doing well. After 90 days he could call them. After 12 months his folks could visit him. After 15 months there were days when his children could visit on "children's day". He expects before long to take overnight family visits. None of these are entitlements. Everything is earned. The punishment for minor infractions is extra time washing dishes, time "in the dishes" to insure "accountability".


There are seminars in the dining room after lunch every day:
  1. Monday - Book Review
  2. Tuesday - Current Events
  3. Wednesday - Debate
  4. Thursday - Concepts
  5. Friday - Stories
These give residents opportunities for public speaking. I was there on a Thursday. Each table of six got a sheet listing possible concepts, such as "Never, never, never give up", or "Stumbling blocks can be stepping stones to success." Residents volunteered to get up in front of everybody, state the concept and then say what it meant to them. Everyone clapped.


It does not appear that any religion is promoted at DS, which is "religiously inclusive". Residents are allowed read scripture. Every religious holiday is celebrated. If someone wants to go outside to a religious service, they must be accompanied by a buddy.

Limited Outside Communications

There is no Internet access from within DS (only two computers in Finance) because, "That would put people at risk". Similarly, I did not see any cell phones, anyone watching television, or any newspapers or magazines. I did not observe anything that would detract people from developing their social and work skills.


One large room that might have been a gym has been converted to become the Town Hall. They occasionally have dances, live music, and outside speakers.


DS requires every resident to pass GED equivalency before leaving. The GED teaching is one-on-one tutoring, done by the residents themselves using the "each one, teach one" principle. Someone with 10th grade skills teaches someone with 8th grade skills, who teaches someone with 6th grade skills, and so on. Final testing is done by San Francisco City College. It's possible to earn a bachelor's degree onsite using tele-courses on TV from San Francisco State University. The Education Department is run by one of the managers of Finance, who is also on the Vatican Council and the Board. Almost everyone has two or three jobs.

Marketable Skills

DS expects everyone to have three marketable skills before they graduate. Carl had no job skills when he arrived. He now heads the paint crew and can hang sheetrock and apply stucco. They recently had to restructure a major part of one of the buildings. The "union" came in to show them how. San Francisco is a union town. When the ex-cons first said they wanted to build Delancey Street, the unions were opposed unless DS would agree not to sell construction services (by unpaid workers) outside. So, by agreement with the unions, construction4 is still internal only. By way of contrast, local chefs came in to train cooks for the excellent restaurant that seats 65.

More complete information on Delancey Street's 20 training schools can be found at its website.


To enable every resident to learn three marketable job skills, DS has an event called rotation, when many residents are shifted from one work training school to another. Scheduling is quite a challenge for DS managers because residents have multiple responsibilities they have to cover.

Moving School

The largest and most profitable operation in DS is the Household Goods Moving School, licensed by the Public Utilities Commission. It started with two men and a pickup. Now, it's the largest independent moving company in northern California. The manager who runs it did not have his GED and had spent more time in prison than out of prison when he came to DS. It took him 18 months to become a crew boss and estimator. Now there are four supervisors under him.

The moving school is located at 5700 Third Street in a 300,000 square foot, three-floor warehouse that serves as a Business Training Complex. There are moving offices at four other Delancey Street locations. In San Francisco there are 40 trucks of all sizes, 75 nationwide. 80% of the jobs are local and 20% intrastate or interstate. Current rates are $82/hour for two men and a truck.

Marketing is word-of-mouth because of the school's high reputation for quality. They shrink wrap every piece of furniture. Their communications are restricted because they can't use cell phones and have to send quotes by fax rather than e-mail which customers would prefer.

Recently they were doing 35 moving jobs a day, employing 120 residents in peak season. A crew would come in at 3 in the afternoon, take another job and not get back until 9 at night. They were getting stressed out. Since training people is a higher priority than making money, the manager recommended to the two managers he reports to (who also have other jobs) that they stop taking orders for three days. Dr. Mimi Siebert, founder of Delancey Street, participated in the final decision not to take any new orders for two weeks so they could focus on the daily training classes. When I was there, about 40 people were being lectured on how to do the paper work required by law in moving.

There are a number of vocational specialties in the moving operation.

One-third of Delancey Street resources come in the form of donated products and services. Six people in the Supply Department work the phones to solicit corporate donations for items such as shrink wrap used in moving, clothing, furniture, etc. The moving trucks deliver some of these materials to and from Delancey Street facilities in other states. If the Supply Department can't provide the product needed, the moving manager is free to purchase it outside.

Frequently, DS will help "friends of DS" to move free-of-charge, such as doctors who provide pro bono services to the residents.

Some graduates of Delancey Street started their own moving businesses and became very successful; they hire other graduates already trained in providing quality service.

Christmas Trees

The day after Thanksgiving, many of the moving crew and others go all out to sell Christmas trees at 13 lots and to decorate buildings in San Francisco. Some trees are 35 or 45 feet tall. This is the second most profitable effort at DS. (The third most profitable is the Restaurant, which seats 65, and the Café. I'm not sure where training in door-to-door retail sales in LA and NY rank with regard to profitability.)


As residents approach the end of their stay at DS, they move into the phase called "workouts". They're assisted in getting a resume, arranging job interviews, and getting a job. They can continue to live for a while in DS and "work out(side)", so they don't have to move and start a new job at the same time. After allowing for transportation and tools, they have to contribute 50% of their salary to DS; many put the other 50% in the credit union. Graduates often come back to teach "workouts".

Comments by Residents

Operations that did not succeed

Auto Detailing was shut down because of theft of customers' valuables by some residents. The Print Shop was shut down because it needed Internet access. Neighbors blocked efforts (NIMBY) for new facilities in San Diego and an estate outside Greensboro, NC.


Delaney Street Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation with business training schools. The finances for the facilities in Los Angeles and Brewster, NY are consolidated with San Francisco. The facilities in NC, VA and NM have to report separately because of legal requirements in those states. One third ($10 million) of annual resources come from product donations and two-thirds ($20 million) from revenue from the training schools. Net Income (cash flow) in 2007 was nearly $5 million. Aside from Pell grants to individuals for advanced education, DS does not accept government grants and does not solicit donations from individuals. Nobody gets a salary. Tips, such as those to movers, are turned over to the Foundation. DeLoitte is the auditor. A $10 million Bank of America loan was paid off. A 20-year, third-party, sale-and-leaseback for the headquarters was fully paid off May 21, 2008, so DS now owns its headquarters.


Delancey Street Foundation has six facilities: San Francisco 400-450; New Mexico 120; Los Angeles 275-350; North Carolina 40; Brewster, NY 120.

There have been 15,000 graduates.


A Board of Directors has fiduciary responsibility; most of the 13 members are long-term residents or graduates. An Executive Committee comprises the President, VP, and Secretary- Treasurer. A "Vatican Council" serves as a management committee for operating decisions.

September 29, 2008, Daniel Dyer, 13 Main Street, Stonington, CT 06378, 860-535-2961, .

  1. The door is locked from the outside but not from the inside. Every one leaving signs in and out.
  2. Alan, Brad and Carl are composites of dozens of residents I met at Delancey Street Foundation headquarters, 600 Embarcadero Street, San Francisco, 94107, on September 25-26, 2008 during two days of training for people who might want to replicate parts or the entire Delancey St. model.
  3. The Interview Form is about the only piece of paper used at Delancey Street, except for legal documents.
  4. The Delancey Street facility in South Carolina does outside construction and landscaping.

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