SAN FRANCISCO - When Helen Waukazoo, the CEO of a drug and alcohol
treatment facility for urban Indians known as the Friendship House, wanted
a new facility, she went to a person known for getting things done.
However, what she did not expect was just how quickly that person could
make things happen.
The person to whom Waukazoo went was none other than then-Mayor Willie
Brown, the legendary California politician and the longest-serving speaker
of the California Assembly. Waukazoo became witness to the quick
decision-making power that made Brown one of the best-known politicians in
Sacramento and San Francisco.
"It was the shortest meeting that I ever had," said Waukazoo.
Waukazoo recounted that when informed she had an audience with the man
known as "Da Mayor" to discuss funding for a state-of-the-art treatment
facility, she was thoroughly prepared to make her pitch.
She said Brown simply turned to one of his staffers and asked whether the
city of San Francisco had the money. The staffer indicated in the
affirmative, and Brown simply said yes.
So it was appropriate that Brown, since replaced as mayor by Gavin Newsom,
was among those in attendance and featured prominently at the new
Friendship House's April 22 dedication ceremony. The new facility, like the
old one, is located in San Francisco's Mission District.
As befitting a ceremony with Brown, there was much pomp and circumstance.
The dedication was held in the courtyard of the new Friendship House.
Neighbors whose apartments overlooked the courtyard peered curiously at the
ceremony, which was attended by more than 200 people. There was traditional
and modern American Indian music and dancing as well as speeches by
Waukazoo, Brown and other dignitaries, including representatives of the
During the ceremonies, Waukazoo recalled Friendship House's humble
beginnings, highlighting how far the facility has come.
Waukazoo, herself a part of the urban relocation plan, said that in the
early 1960s San Francisco lacked a facility to deal with the burgeoning
urban American Indian population. Established in 1963 as a church-sponsored
drop-in facility, in 1971 it became its own organization and was
incorporated as a nonprofit by members of the local American Indian
community. It was not until 1981 that the city of San Francisco began to
fund the Friendship House.
Known for its drug and alcohol treatment programs, the Friendship House
serves American Indians who are suffering from a variety of social ills
caused by modern urban living, including those without support networks and
those with legal and personal problems.
Medical and dental services are also offered.
The new $12 million facility is four stories high and covers 24,000 square
feet. It features two full floors of resident rooms which can hold up to 80
people for in-house treatment of various drug and alcohol addictions.
Though the city of San Francisco was the major donor, other groups (such as
the federal government, which chipped in $2 million) also helped to fund
the project. Only 3 percent of Friendship House funding came from private
The hotel-like rooms are tidy with two bunk beds per room. The two floors
of rooms are segregated by gender, with men on the second floor and women
on the third. There are common television areas as well as a laundry room.
The first floor boasts a large kitchen in which patients who have stayed
with the program for a while can work.
The top floor contains administrative offices. In addition to the kitchen,
the bottom floor serves as a community hall for a variety of programs,
including after-school youth drug and alcohol prevention programs and adult
health education and life skills programs.
The outside area features a landscaped courtyard as well as a basketball
court. Additionally, there are plans to put a sweat lodge in the outside
"It's really nice [and] big," said Marvin Paddock, who runs one of the
after-school programs. "It'll help a lot because all of our programs are
now under one roof."
Dr. Robert Harry, acting director of Urban Indian Health Programs and one
of the speakers at the opening ceremony, said the San Francisco Friendship
House was one of 34 across the nation, with an additional two auxiliary
offices. Though Harry said that funding fluctuates, he estimated that the
federal government spends on average $32 million to fund the urban
The new Friendship House will have an annual operating budget of around $4
Also making an appearance at the opening ceremonies was Waukazoo's husband,
Native American Health Center Executive Director Martin Waukazoo, whose
Oakland-based operation currently oversees urban Indian health clinics in
Fresno and Sacramento while the facilities in those cities get back on
Martin Waukazoo said he is a living testament to the Friendship House's
effectiveness. While struggling with alcohol addiction in the early 1970s,
he sought help at the Friendship House and is now perhaps one of its
biggest success stories.
"I got sober and I found Helen," said Waukazoo, who congratulated his wife
on the new facility.
The staff provided some interesting statistics about the Friendship House.
The clientele is about evenly split between people of California tribes and
out-of-state tribes. The five tribes that used Friendship House services
the most from 1994 to 2004 were Navajo, Pomo, Yurok, Miwok and Hoopa.
Six of the seven board members are American Indian, as is 80 percent of
their 50-member staff.