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Delancey Street
February 25, 2007 11:37 AM   Subscribe

In 1971 Delancey Street began with four residents, a thousand dollar loan, and a dream to develop a new model to turn around the lives of substance abusers, former felons, and others who have hit bottom by empowering the people with the problems to become their own solution. With no professionals, no government funding, and at no charge to the clients, Delancey Street Foundation has rehabilitated and provided job skills to thousands of former drug addicts and criminals. They have a successful moving company, a well loved (although not necessarily critically acclaimed) restaurant, a thriving Christmas tree business, and a partnership with the local state university. Founded in the heady radical days of the early 70s, they've had a few bumps along the way, (cofounder John Maher died of a drug overdose) but they are one of the most well respected models for rehabilitation in the world. In recent news, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has been spending a lot of time there.
posted by serazin (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
They don't really have their own website - surely someone out there in metafilterland wants to go give some web design classes there?
posted by serazin at 11:38 AM on February 25, 2007


This is my new favorite charity. And things like these are perhaps the only way we can solve the prison problem. you send people to prison who are probably already unemployable cut their education and library programs so their is no way for them better themselves and then expect htem not to end up in prison.

Im not for criminals I just think that 2.2 million people in prison is alot for a country of our size and the way people are handing out sentences along with the recidivism rates we have, means our encarceration rate goes up even as crime goes down.

America is a christian country but somehow forgiveness and caring for you neigbors seem to be things we don't value . Or, perhaps I should say the more fervently religous of us don't seem to value.
posted by Rubbstone at 12:00 PM on February 25, 2007


a few people from their organization came to speak to my prisons class at cornell university--they're an amazing organization with a lot to offer, but there also appears to be a somewhat culty organizational structure and culture, at least in the early stages of living in the house...but regardless, they've helped a lot of people get back on their feet with a good job after prison--no small task this day and age where a prison sentance can quite literally brand you for life.
posted by Kifer85 at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2007


Best Xmas tree I ever bought. Coffee or a BLT at the Crossroads Cafe is not to be missed on a sunny San Francsico day.
posted by bustmakeupleave at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2007


Wait, a politician into serious self-improvement? What fucking wormhole did I fall into?
posted by Mikey-San at 12:57 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


From the BBC link:

"UK Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the place recently, prompting calls for the concept to be introduced in Britain."

Coincidentally, I visited a very similar programme here in Liverpool, just before Xmas. A place called Bosco House. All of the residents had been homeless prior to admission. All of them had drug or alcohol problems. Unlike most programmes, they could stay as long as they needed, and it was a truly remarkable programme, run by a really remarkable team. (I see many of these places, so I don't say that lightly.)

The most impressive aspect of the programme, as with Delancey Street, was the vocational training. I had a very moving conversation with a woman who, two years before had been facing jail time for bank robbery. She'd been lodged there while on bail, had developed a relationship with horticulture, and though she'd now completed the programme and had her own place, she was continuing to show up every day to work in the rain and the mud. People working in the kitchens and the carpentry workshops had similar tales to tell.

A fortnight ago, I had a phone call from one of the staff, desperate for assistance because their current funding stream had come to an end, and there were no signs of renewal. The vocational programmes will close at the end of next month if there is no change.

Meanwhile, there are other so-called drug treatment programmes who seem to have no difficulty finding funding for nonsense like auricular acupuncture or reiki therapy, because the dimwitted staff like to play at being voodoo therapists.

I despair.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:48 PM on February 25, 2007


This could never work in the US in any widespread manner. Too many shareholders who need to see quarterly increase of the value of their prison-industrial complex stock. The whole idea is to increase your customer base (the incarcerated). You start taking away from the prison population and some lobbyists will start shitting balls.
posted by sourwookie at 2:38 PM on February 25, 2007


This is a really cool story, thanks. It gives me a little bit of hope when I encounter the occasional story of a real rehabilitation offering. That's what a true correctional system should be about.
posted by rollbiz at 2:54 PM on February 25, 2007


How many places co0uld open and be able to keep their clients for a minimum of two years? Now, do you have any idea of what the average health coverage will pay for rehab and for how long they will pay this? addtionally, and from what I know of rehab, the conventional in and out after a few months is not very effective whereas two years on up, is. Therefore, either the clients or the organization must find a means to cover costs--as this place seems to do--or they get in financial trouble. l
posted by Postroad at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2007


Cool story. It's a shame that California's recidivism rate is at 70%, the highest in the country.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:25 PM on February 25, 2007


I knew several Delancey Street graduates when I lived in SF. The owner of the company I worked for had a soft spot for reformed addicts. Delancey Street is hardcore; you have to convince them you're serious about turning yourself around, or they won't admit you. IIRC, you have to have reached bottom (been charged with a crime) in order to qualify. And if you leave before you graduate, that's it. You can't come back, ever. I never went to their restaurant, but at Halloween their residents made the most twisted haunted house I'd ever seen :)

Sadly, of the 5 or 6 graduates I met, about half went back to using in one form or another after a while.
posted by Koko at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2007


Meanwhile, there are other so-called drug treatment programmes who seem to have no difficulty finding funding for nonsense like auricular acupuncture or reiki therapy, because the dimwitted staff like to play at being voodoo therapists.

agreed.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:12 PM on February 25, 2007


Sadly, of the 5 or 6 graduates I met, about half went back to using in one form or another after a while.

If it was just half, then they're doing extremely well, koko. Most abstinence-based drug treatment only sees between 10 and 25% of programme graduates still drug-free after six months.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:35 PM on February 25, 2007


True enough!
posted by Koko at 7:31 AM on February 26, 2007



Peter, I think you are being over-quick to compare and give credit, unusually for you.

Delancey Street seems to have a ways to go before it is anything like Bosco House-- it is a direct descendant of Synanon and from what I've heard, still maintains the confrontational and humiliating groups. The recent quote from a staffer praising Newsom for going to Delancey rather than a "softer" option is a hint that the idea of breaking people to fix them still holds sway there.

The programs it offers in the California prisons are a huge failure, according to a recent review by the Office of the Inspector General-- this is in part because the prisons don't keep the people trying to get clean away from the general population, but the report curiously also blamed the programs for not spending enough time in "encounter groups" (yes, they used that word!).

Of course, the encounter groups for which Synanon, Delancey et all are famous are known to harm about 9% of participants and there is no evidence that they help anyone.

The best programs-- like that at Bosco-- are gentle, empathetic and supportive and not based on attacking people.
posted by Maias at 8:04 AM on February 26, 2007



Correction: the California prison study was on Walden House, not Delancey Street.

But the BBC-- and Tony Blair should do their homework-- "concept houses" already exist in the UK.
posted by Maias at 8:13 AM on February 26, 2007


I don't claim to be an expert, but my understanding is that few rehab programs keep or publish statistics on their long-term efficacy. My understanding is that longer-term residential programs tend to be much more effective than short-term outpatient programs. Walden house is short-term and a very different program than Delancey, but again, I dont' know anything specific about their in-prison work.

Delancey does still feature 'encounter' style sessions. There's a bit of secrecy about the whole thing - and I haven't been able to glean exactly what happens in these sessions. I do know that people leave the program with real life job skills and, in my experience, a real sense of responsibility and an established pattern of adult decision making (which I think most residents do not have before joining up).

The most common complaint I've heard (and this is all second hand from people who know people) about Delancy is a lack of follow up. There isn't any - or there is as much as the former resident chooses to engage in I guess. There's little formal structure to encourage it as far as I can tell.

I know that some of the early leadership were big wheeler-dealers in SF polititics. Delancey residents used to do voter registration, security for Ceasar Chavez at marches, stuff like that, and my sense is that a lot of the early leadership got really embroiled in having that sort of political cache. The rumors I've heard are that these guys got back into drugs and alcohol and then left the organization in the 80s. Anyway, it seems much more stayed and much less cult-like since then. It is essentially a commune though, and that type of intimate community comes with it's own culture, routines, and rules.

There is a hierarchy for sure - new folks are supposed to cut off their hair, stay in the most bunker-like lodgings, and do the shittiest jobs (mopping the floor etc). The longer you stay the more privileges you get, the more privacy, the more independence.

Also, there is an expectation of constant work. Residents work 6 or 7 days a week for long hours. This provides income for the organization and, I believe, is one of the essential components of their recovery program. You stay busy. People need you. This encourages a different kind of responsibility and a focus on things beyond your own immediate problems.

Finally, Mimi Silbert doesn't fit the controlling charismatic leader bill as far as I can tell and her ex and the original founder John Maher, is long dead.

In short, I don't think it's a cult.
posted by serazin at 12:52 PM on February 26, 2007



That's the problem with the whole field-- it's based on anecdote not evidence. Delancey Street, Walden House, Phoenix House, Daytop Village-- all of the treatment centers that run about 18 months or longer in the U.S.-- are based on Synanon, which was a cult and started the idea in American addiction treatment that what addicts need is a tough community that humiliates, isolates, forces into work and breaks down the addict and rebuilds him as a nice, compliant citizen. Synanon is most notorious for having put a snake in the mailbox of the first lawyer to win lawsuits against them, it bit him and he nearly died.

It also eventually forced women to get abortions, made kids clean up feces using carrots to put it into cups, made men get vasectomies and forced couples to swap partners. It is an example of why power without checks over vulnerable people is a bad idea-- one that gets repeated over and over and over in the history of addiction treatment because of the lack of research tradition.

Another problem is, we're great at breaking people and making them into cult members, but no one knows how to rebuild them and most people won't stand for the process and many are profoundly damaged by it. And, when you study addiction recovery, it actually has little relationship to it: empathy and support *are shown* by research to actually help while confrontation and humiliation produce dropout.

I *am* an addictions expert-- co-wrote a book with U Penn researcher Joe Volpicelli called Recovery Options: The Complete Guide, in 2000, published by Wiley.

The TC model should be taught in research methods 101 as an example of self-selection. Basically, the harshness causes about 80% of people to drop out, mostly in the first two weeks or so of treatment (or with Delancey, they don't get in in the first place because they refuse to beg-- others use that method of "screening" as well).

Since about 15-20% of people are ready to quit addictions at any given time, by selecting out the unmotivated, you make it look like you have a very successful treatment model-- but if you told that group to stand on its head twice a day they'd probably get clean just as well.

But anyway, the TC's claim an 80% success rate: that is 80% of the 20% that stay in, but they don't tell you the last bit.

Anyone interested in the history of this and Synanon should check out Help at Any Cost, my other book about addiction treatment, which traces the Synanon influence on treatment for "troubled teens" and the harm that resulted. Again, I apologize for self link.
posted by Maias at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2007


I"m definitly interested in your books so thanks for the links. For me Synanon is facinating as a part of the social change movements of the 60s and 70s (and where they went wrong).

Still, I don't get your making Delancey the same as Walden. They seem like very different models. Delancey is residential with a minimum commitment of 2 years - most people stay 4. The one person I knew who was using Walden was involved in a 21 day outpatient program. Aren't long-term programs more effective than short outpatient programs?

I hear what you're saying about self-selection. But for that self-selected group, it seems like this model is effective. Not just for quitting drugs, but for making lasting lifestyle changes. I am basing this on anecdotal evidence as you pointed out.

Anyway, I will check out your books! Really.
posted by serazin at 2:59 PM on February 26, 2007



Thanks Serazin. There is absolutely value in community support for recovery-- but it needs to be a community where the person feels comfortable. This is probably why randomization fails to find a positive effect for AA and other 12 step programs-- people who self-select to it definitely do better, but not those randomly assigned.

Walden originated as a long-term program like Delancey and both were modeled on Synanon-- I think Walden now has a bunch of shorter term programs and some long term ones, basically. For most addicts, outpatient is as effective as inpatient-- but this is not true for the severe cases that tend to end up at places like Delancey.

But again, one of the main reasons that length of stay is correlated with recovery is because people who are more committed to staying clean will do as they are told, basically.

Four years is an insanely long time for treatment for most people-- it makes some sense for the homeless and illiterate and unskilled, but for everyone else, it's almost certainly overkill. it probably is for even the severe cases, too-- no other program for those populations lasts more than 18 months and there's no controlled research I can see on Delancey anywhere.

It's better to support people outside than to make them dependent on a constructed insular community, basically. Not to mention cheaper.
posted by Maias at 5:19 PM on February 26, 2007



Thanks Serazin. There is absolutely value in community support for recovery-- but it needs to be a community where the person feels comfortable. This is probably why randomization fails to find a positive effect for AA and other 12 step programs-- people who self-select to it definitely do better, but not those randomly assigned.

Walden originated as a long-term program like Delancey and both were modeled on Synanon-- I think Walden now has a bunch of shorter term programs and some long term ones, basically. For most addicts, outpatient is as effective as inpatient-- but this is not true for the severe cases that tend to end up at places like Delancey.

But again, one of the main reasons that length of stay is correlated with recovery is because people who are more committed to staying clean will do as they are told, basically.

Four years is an insanely long time for treatment for most people-- it makes some sense for the homeless and illiterate and unskilled, but for everyone else, it's almost certainly overkill. it probably is for even the severe cases, too-- no other program for those populations lasts more than 18 months and there's no controlled research I can see on Delancey anywhere.

It's better to support people outside than to make them dependent on a constructed insular community, basically. Not to mention cheaper.
posted by Maias at 5:21 PM on February 26, 2007


Hey Maias,

Interesting conversation. At the risk of beating this into the ground - I just want to say that from what I know of Synanon, I agree with all of your critiques of it. I wouldn't dismiss everything that came out of that, but you know more about it than me.

If you think of Delancy in terms of how good is it at helping people quit drugs, I can totally see your issue with it - it only works for some people, and it is way too harsh for others. Although from what I understand, it is very effective at getting that subset of people clean. Cost isn't an issue for Delancy since it costs the residents nothing and they receive no outside funding to speak of (there are some in kind donations and such).

If you think of it in terms of structural change in the lives of participants, I'm not sure I can agree with you. Some people do stay there forever, but the majority of residents leave. And they leave with knowledge and skills in communication, job skills, and basic life skills. In terms of helping people escape the cycle of poverty and abusive behavior, it seems very effective. It has been for the people I know who have been through their anyway.

Look, it's basically a commune. A lot of people would call any commune cult like: it's got a specific set of social rules that differ from ours. But their original charismatic leader is long gone, and all members can 'work their way up' the hierarchy. There are structures that help build independence for all residence as they near the end of their stays there, and there are no snakes in mailboxes. I suppose there must be some sort of 'dirt' on Mimi Silbert, but I've never heard it.

Having said all that, I wish I could see some controlled research too.
posted by serazin at 7:03 PM on February 26, 2007


Peter, I think you are being over-quick to compare and give credit, unusually for you.

Actually, I was trying to avoid saying anything about Delancey Street, about which I know nothing, and was just seeking to comment on Blair's statement.

That's the problem with the whole field-- it's based on anecdote not evidence.

I think you mean the whole of the US field. Here in the UK, we're making great strides towards moving towards evidence-based practice. See, for example:

http://www.nice.org.uk/page.aspx?o=256691&c=91523
http://www.nice.org.uk/page.aspx?o=256685&c=91523
http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/TA114
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:01 AM on February 27, 2007


Oops. I hit enter too early. Let me clarify:

Peter, I think you are being over-quick to compare and give credit, unusually for you.

Actually, I was trying to avoid saying anything about Delancey Street, about which I know nothing, and was just seeking to comment on Blair's statement -- which I understood to be referring to the vocational aspects of Delancey.

Actually, Blair has an extremely good grasp of the drug treatment system in the UK, and has been personally committed to the huge expansion that we've seen over the past five years, so I think that we can safely assume that he knows we have Concept Houses here -- though independent Concept Houses do seem to be dwindling and are being replaced by rehabs with more of a twelve step orientation.

Where our system falls down hardest though, is in the process of getting people back to work. It's this aspect of Delancey that sounds quite impressive, not the therapeutic content.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:16 AM on February 27, 2007


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