In 1982, San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein asked San Francisco Churches to open their doors to refugees fleeing war and famine in Central America. Dolores Street Baptist Church, at that time located on the corner of 15th and Dolores Streets, was the first to answer the call and founded a "church basement" operation providing basic services of shelter and meals (the Dolores Housing Program, now the Dolores Shelter Program).
Over the next 10 years, this program continued to serve as the primary provider of shelter to San Francisco’s Latino homeless working poor. In 1993, when the church was destroyed in a fire, both the church and the shelter were moved to new facilities, but continued to provide shelter and services to the Latino community of the Mission District.
Beginning in the early 1990’s, church members began to explore how they could also help address the needs of the other community it bordered — San Francisco’s Castro District. At that time, one of the primary issues affecting Castro residents was the crisis of HIV and AIDS, and church members identified housing as one of the primary needs of those who had become infected and were living on the streets.
In 1995, with the support of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, Dolores Street Community Services renovated an old Victorian cottage on Dolores Street and opened the doors to Hope House, a place for homeless men and women living with AIDS to spend their last days in dignity and peace. Hope House was later renamed the Richard M. Cohen Residence in honor of a local realtor and community member who died of AIDS, and whose estate provided a significant portion of the funds for the renovation.
As the decade ended, the programs separated from their founding church, becoming a fully independent non-sectarian non-profit organization.
The programs are currently administered out of the main office on Valencia Street, and the capacity of the Dolores Shelter Program has expanded to 108 beds, including Jazzie’s Place – the nation’s first adult LGBT shelter. The Cohen House has transformed from its first incarnation as a hospice, and is now a widely recognized residential care facility for people living with disabling HIV or AIDS. The organization has also developed the large office and meeting space at its main office into the Valencia Community Center program, providing an important resource for neighborhood organizations and community groups.
Things were somewhat quiet for the next decade while we focused on strengthening these programs, but starting in 2006 the agency found itself in an unprecedented stage of growth.
Under the leadership of Eric Quezada, our Executive Director at the time, we, along with other community partners, responded to the surge of ICE activities and deportations by creating the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN). Dolores Street acts and the lead and fiscal agent for this 12-agency network that provides coordinated outreach, education, and free or low-cost legal services to immigrants from many diverse countries and regions of the world.
In 2007, Dolores Street took on the Mission SRO Collaborative (MSROC) and created a partnership with Causa Justa::Just Cause, the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, and the Women’s Community Clinic to organize with SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel tenants throughout the Mission. The purpose of the program is to protect SRO housing stock, improve living conditions, and fight for housing justice. Soon after in 2008, we realized there was a larger need to engage in further advocacy and organizing to support land uses that minimize displacement and facilitate the development of affordable housing in the Mission District. The goal of the program is to maintain an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood that continues to be accessible to low-income and immigrant communities. The program also works to expand low-income housing opportunities through acquisition and rehabilitation of existing sites, or by partnering with other organizations to create new housing opportunities.
Meanwhile, we recognized the lack of legal services for low-income immigrants facing complex removal defense cases so we created the Deportation Defense and Legal Advocacy Program. Initiated in 2008, the program grew out of Dolores Street’s work in the SFILEN collaboration. Currently, the program has 6 full time attorneys, and has become one of the leading deportation defense providers in the Bay Area.
In 2009, Dolores Street took on the African Advocacy Network (AAN) as a fiscally sponsored project. AAN focuses exclusively on serving African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants and offers legal services, case management, and social integration services based on a unique Cultural Brokering model. The program also provides policy-related education in its target communities. Starting as a basically volunteer run program, it has grown to now include 5 full time staff including an attorney, and they are officially spinning off to be their own non-profit by the end of 2017.
In the works for many years through our Community Planning and Development department, Casa Quezada opened in 2011. Casa Quezada is a 52-unit supportive housing site for formerly homeless individuals with special needs, many of whom have transitioned from our shelter program and who are monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrants with limited access to other subsidized housing in San Francisco. In partnership with the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, the program provides on-site clinical and case management services, daily meal service, and community-building activities to all residents. It is named in honor of Eric Quezada, Dolores Street’s former Executive Director who passed away from cancer in 2011.
In 2012, the San Francisco Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective joined Dolores Street. It is a membership-based program comprised of day laborers and domestic workers. Through the program, these workers defend their rights to dignified, fair paying jobs and provide a positive and reputable hiring environment for employers.