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Housing investment helps Native Americans overcome addiction

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A UMNS photo by Deborah White

Friendship House American Indian Healing Center in San Francisco expanded its services in 2005.
Jan. 10, 2006

By Deborah White*

SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS) — A new $12 million building painted in warm Southwest colors opened recently here, allowing the expansion of a holistic addiction treatment program emphasizing Native American culture and values.

With a new facility, the Friendship House American Indian Healing Center expanded in 2005 from 30 to 80 beds, lengthened treatment from 90 days to six months and added a six-month transitional housing and job training program.

About 85 percent of the Friendship House clients are from Native American tribes in California and other states. When they arrive at Friendship House, many are homeless, unemployed and addicted to alcohol or amphetamines. Most leave with a strong commitment to sobriety. They find jobs, resolve legal problems, understand their heritage and feel more balanced in body, mind and spirit.

“It works for us as Indian people. We’re different,” said Helen Waukazoo, a Navajo and executive director of the Friendship House.

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A UMNS photo by Tim Griffis

Frank Segobiano, a counselor at Friendship House, leads a smudging ceremony with a client.
Construction was made possible in part through a $1.8 million, 30-year loan purchased by the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits as part of its affordable housing investment program.

The board bought the loan through the Low Income Investment Fund, which conducted a thorough review of the Friendship House. Other funding came from private donors, foundations and government sources.

Since 1990, the pension board has invested in projects across the country, helping create or renovate about 25,000 housing units. Affordable housing commitments total $1.3 billion.

“The entire denomination should take pride in the fact that money supporting clergy and lay retirement benefits has made such a positive and meaningful change in the lives of the underserved,” said David Zellner, chief investment officer of the pension board.

The affordable housing program also has been a sound investment, producing a 7.5 percent rate of return since its inception. Contributing factors include holding loans to maturity, a rigorous application process and a lower-than-usual default rate. “We simply would not have made as many investments in affordable housing were these investments not proven to be superior ways to attain superior investment returns commensurate with risk,” Zellner said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Tim Griffis

A sweat lodge is one of the traditional Native American resources offered by the Friendship House in San Francisco.
Friendship House’s new facility replaced a smaller deteriorating building nearby in the Mission District of San Francisco, which has been a center of the Native American community since the 1950s. The Christian Reform Church founded the Friendship House in 1963 as a social service agency.

One of the early participants was Waukazoo, who moved to San Francisco as a young adult. She joined the staff in the 1970s, when the Native American community assumed control of Friendship House and formed a nonprofit organization, Friendship House Association of American Indians.

“I think we are having a tremendous impact on the community,” Waukazoo said.

Friendship House combines traditional Native American values and spirituality with Western psychology and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program includes traditional prayers, medicine men, healing ceremonies and a sweat lodge. Clients are assigned responsibilities, including cleaning and cooking.

Native American designs are used throughout the building. “I wanted the building to represent American Indian people,” Waukazoo said.

The relapse rate of Friendship House clients is less than half the industry average. More than 60 percent stay sober for more than two years after graduation, according to a report from Devine & Gong Inc., community development financial consultants.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Deborah White

Counselor Samuel Heredia (center) talks with Bruce Williams and Michelle Sauceda, clients at the Friendship House.
“The bedrock of Friendship House’s provision of care is a belief that its clients’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are interconnected and interdependent,” the report said.

Research shows Native Americans are more susceptible to addiction when they walk away from traditional ways such as ceremonies, prayers, language, family or community. “So we intertwine that as a balance,” said Orlando Nakai, a Navajo who is clinical director. About 80 percent of the 50 staff members are Native Americans.

Some clients, like Bruce Williams, were not raised with traditional Native American values, but enjoy learning them at the Friendship House. “What I like most about the program here is the traditional ways they are teaching us,” Williams said. “The 12 steps, along with the traditional healing, the talking circles, the groups we have here, are a big part of my recovery.”

Michelle Sauceda, a client who grew up with traditional values of the Miwok tribe, said the combination of Native American spirituality and the tools of Alcoholics Anonymous will help her once she leaves Friendship House.

“It makes me feel I truly belong to a place where you’re just like everybody else here,” she said. “I truly love this place.”

*White is associate editor of Interpreter, the official ministry magazine of the United Methodist Church, and Interpreter OnLine.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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