Friendship House’s Origins in Alamo Square

April 27th, 2021 No Comments »

East side of Steiner Street south of Fulton Street – 1983. Friendship House at this time was located at 818 Steiner Street, second house from the right. Max Kirkeberg Collection, San Francisco State.

A Queen Anne-style home on Alamo Square was once the location of the Friendship House Association of American Indians, the oldest social service agency in the United States run by and for American Indians. In 1963, 818 Steiner Street was sold to the Christian Reform Church. Using the name “Friendship House”, it became a safe haven for the growing urban Indian community in San Francisco, with a drop-in center that helped Native people find affordable housing, employment, and develop urban survival skills.

Friendship House at 818 Steiner Street – 1983, detail. Max Kirkeberg Collection, San Francisco State.

In 1973, the American Indian community organized and assumed control of the drop-in agency, incorporating as a 501(c)(3) non-profit named Friendship House Association of American Indians, Inc., of San Francisco.

Friendship House’s programs have evolved to serve men, women, expectant mothers, and youth. Their substance abuse recovery and prevention programs, as well as several community-wide programs, are built upon American Indian knowledge systems that reinforce the cultural identity of their clients.

In 1982, Friendship House moved to the Mission District, and 818 Steiner was purchased by the St. Anthony Foundation for a halfway house and work program for young men. Friendship House is today located at 56 Julian Street, within the American Indian Cultural District. Along with the Native American Health Center and Indian Education Program, Friendship House represents some of the integral American Indian services that operate within the District.

Helen Devore Waukazoo. Photo courtesy of Friendship House.

Helen Waukazoo in front of Friendship House at 818 Steiner, c. 1960s. Here, Helen co-founded the organization and took her first job as a clerk-typist. Photo courtesy of Friendship House.

Until her passing earlier this month, Friendship House was led by Helen Devore Waukazoo (Navajo), who co-founded, developed, and built this agency over the past fifty-eight years. This excerpt, from a recent tribute on Friendship House’s website, speaks to Helen’s important legacy:

“Helen taught and showed us the Way. She both inspired and challenged us to not only continue the healing of our people, but to grow and deepen that healing.  To do this, she envisioned The Village, a sacred physical place that Indian people could call “home.”


To read more about Helen’s story and her vision, visit this page. To learn more about Friendship House’s history and programs, and to donate to support their work, visit their website at friendshiphousesf.org.

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