The year was 1955, Eisenhower was the president. “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets was the at the top of the charts. The submarine NAUTILUS went to sea under atomic power. Churchill resigned as prime minister. Elvis was singing “Heartbreak Hotel.” The Salk polio vaccine had been approved. Per capita income in California was $45.00 per week. In such a year was ARA born, making headlines of its own. Reproduced here in its entirety is a three-part story published 55 years ago by The S.F. Call-Bulletin, with these eye-catching headlines:
NOVEL HOME HELPS HOMELESS COME BACK...SKID ROW TO SOBRETY...
When Ed was about 22 years old, he found that a few beers with the boys on pay day turned out to be two or three-day binges for him. “I knew then that alcohol was a problem for me,” he recalled today. But he didn’t know how much of a problem it was to become. Today, Ed is a neatly-dressed, handsome San Francisco business man of 34—the type you see every day on the city’s buses—respectable, respected. But, as recently as last May, he was on Skid Row, venturing out of cheap flop-houses only to bum what was necessary to buy another bottle of wine. “Once I counted 21 empty wine bottles on the bureau,” he related. “I don’t know how many were on the floor. Ed, with the help of the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Association, put the cork on the bottle in June. It had taken him 12 long years to find sobriety. Independent of Alcoholics Anonymous, ARA differs from AA in that it takes friendless alcoholics into a home. But AA co-operates with ARA, holds frequent meetings in the ARA First Step Home, 3804 Seventeenth Street, and refers people such as Ed, to the new-type rehabilitation program.
The Alcoholic Rehabilitation Association is a unique San Francisco corporation founded in 1955 by 11 members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Since its founding, approximately 3000 people have been helped by the new group which its members proudly claim is the only one of its kind in the United States.
ARA members first met anywhere they could. Then last March, First Step Home opened in a converted restaurant. About 16 men and women now live at the home, with the average stay being about four months. After that, they either return to their families or go on to Alhaven Residence Club, the second step in the ARA program. ARA takes in everyone it can who sincerely wants to re-enter society. They are net with the friendly words: “Relax, you’re home! Forget the past!” Ed had quite a past to forget. But so do all who enter First Step Home.
“When I went to a Seattle sanitarium in 1944 I was told I was too young to have an alcoholic problem,” Ed said., “but I did have a problem.” Ed went back to his work in experimental engineering without any help from the sanitarium. But he was not at work for long. His lost week-ends lost him his job, and caused bitter scenes with his family. His bankroll dwindled. “Then I went into the Navy,” Ed continued slowly, “and drank heavily the whole time.”
OFTEN IN THE BRIG
The young sailor often wound up in the brig, had several courts martial, including a general court martial which resulted in a sentence of two years hard labor. “I did six months and six days, “ he recalled, “then I was restored to active duty and got a good discharge.” V-J Day turned into A-day for Ed - A for alcoholic. When he got so bad he couldn’t climb out of his hotel bed, someone referred Ed to Alcoholics Anonymous.
SOBER –A WHILE
“I was sober 18 months, “ he said. “I did well financially and restored my relationship with my family. But then I had some martial trouble and slipped off the wagon again.” The slip lasted six years. “During those years, I was drunken two-thirds of the time. My longest job was about six months, and I worked in half the states in the union, usually living on Skid Rows. I must have been in jail more than a hundred times.” In Los Angeles last spring, Ed and another skid rogue had a windfall of $5 from a tipsy man out on the town for an evening. It was the luckiest windfall of his life. “We were flush, bought six or eight jugs, and jumped a freight train for San Francisco, timing ourselves to arrive at the Embarcadero just when the wine shops opened.” They made it. Weeks later, the landlord of Ed’s Third and Howard street hotel finally told him to sober up. ”I couldn’t get my buddy out of bed. He was too sick. So I wandered out alone, not knowing where I was going or what to do. I finally went to AA, and since I was homeless they sent me to ARA. Ed, like so may others, took his first step to sobriety in June, when he entered First Step Home. Now, coffee is his strongest drink— but…“when I arrived at the home, I had given up, utterly and completely, for the first time,” he admitted.
HOPELESS ALCOHOLIC ENTERS ARA HOME
Ed stepped over the threshold of First Step Home at 3804 Seventeenth Street in June, a beaten man...a confirmed alcoholic at the age of 34. “I had completely given up. Nothing mattered to me but sobriety, and I was willing to go along with any program to achieve that,” he said. During the past 12 years off the wagon, Ed’s longest period of sobriety had been 18 months. He wondered if the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Association, the new San Francisco organization that runs First Step Home, could help him. It seemed unlikely. On the day he entered, he was ending his latest binge—one that had lasted six years. For the first three days at First Step Home, Ed was afraid to lie down to sleep.
HAD THE DT’S
“Every time I dozed off, I went into the DT’s I saw things both in and out of this world. I’d wake up screaming and had to leave the light on.” When he entered the home, the first thing Ed saw was a poster, declaring: “We admitted we are powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” He was greeted by about 16 men and women who had already subscribed to that credo. “They were all so good to me,” he recalled. A distinguished-looking gentleman, fingering a cigarette holder, stepped forward. He introduced himself as the home’s executive secretary, Anthony F. Ormsby, “Frank to you.” Frank told Ed about himself, how he was a “graduate of N.S.H.—Napa State Hospital,” where he had committed himself to “dry out” for good. After Ormsby left Napa, with a plan mapped out for individual rehabilitation, he met the founders of ARA and soon found himself “drafted” into helping the beginning organization get on its feet. “They kept me here,” he laughed.
As is inevitable with bureaucracy, the paper work increased tremendously for certification of the program. A new position called “Program Facilitator” was created, so that we now have three staff persons in the office and the cook. We still charged low rates for living here — particularly for new residents: $85 in the dormitory, $110 in double rooms and $130 in single rooms. The rates include three meals a day and snacks. We usually made it on a month-to-month basis though the recent fire forced us to juggle monies. The Board of Directors opened the Kamler House last year for residents as the next move back into society —so that, although we have not exactly blazed new trails, we have been home to approximately 120 recovering yearly. Because of the length of time we have been in operation, we have lost some of our original benefactors. Fortunately, some left us a legacy in their wills but so far we have been unable to add to our list of donors. We currently have only 80 members on our yearly list and ten life members. We really need now members. On the last page of this news letter is an application form. You can help us by returning it with a donation of $20 or more. Since we are a non-profit organization, all donations, whether material or financial, are tax deductible. In summation, my association with 1st Step Home, as resident, board member, manager has been a long-standing love affair — bitter, sweet, frustrating, fulfilling, invigorating, enervating, but always rewarding. The opportunity to help others as I was once helped is why 1st Step home is the spiritual home that ranks first in my heart.
All the men and women living in the rooms of First Step Home were in the process
of “drying out,” Ed learned. “Relax. This is your home,” Ormsby said, “The past is over now.” Ormsby had been instrumental in drawing up the by-laws for San Francisco’s only rehabilitation home for alcoholics. He told Ed the rules. No going out at night, no drinking or use of narcotics except under a doctor’s orders, act in the home as you would in your own home for, “we’re your family.” For two weeks Ed was allowed just to sit down and “take it easy.” He saw others going out to do little part-time jobs Ormsby had arranged, paying the $2 daily fee required of residents as soon as they felt they could work. Soon Ed wanted to help too. Outfitted in a suit of donated clothes, Ed broached the subject of work to the home’s resident director. Finding out through a frank and complete interview that Ed had become proficient at the stove during his years of “bumming,” ARA made him the cook of First Step Home.
“They kept asking me if I needed medical or psychiatric help, since they had the cooperation of places like Otis Street Clinic and Mary’s Help Hospital,” Ed said. “I told myself, ‘You got yourself this way, now suffer,’ and wouldn’t ask for medication.” He finally improved to the point where he took an active interest in the other alcoholics who would hesitantly knock at the door to ask for help. “Most of them stayed,” he said, “but a few weren’t ready yet.” Ed watched Ormsby leave the home often. Later he found the secretary was taking trips to see employers, giving speeches to local groups about ARA, finding jobs for the residents. Like others in the home, Ed sometimes accompanied Ormsby. He met the advisory council and trustees of ARA, men like Judge Orla St. Clair; Louis Bloch, Ph.D.; Doctors Robert E. Gray; and Rollin Wheeler. Ed saw men and women, with stories like his own, coming into the home, referred by Napa State Hospital, Otis Street Clinic, ministers, priests, doctors and countless other agencies.
NOT ENOUGH ROOM
“Many have to be turned away, because we haven’t enough room here,” Ormsby said. “First Step Home will never be self-supporting by its very setup,” he continued. “We’re trying to get grants, and hope to become a Community Chest agency.” Four months after he came to the home— about par for those who enter ARA—Ed was ready, mentally and physically, to take his place in the regular working world. Ormsby told him he could, if he desired, return to his family or go on to ARA’s second step, Alhaven Residence Club. It is the first of what the group hopes will become many residence clubs devoted to keeping the essential home atmosphere ARA believes is so important in keeping the alcoholic sober. Ed, now working steady, made the hard decision that a return to his family might mean a return to the bottle. “It’s difficult for a non-alcoholic to understand an alcoholic mate,” he said simply. Ed moved to Alhaven.
Last of series—it’s always coffee break. ALCOHOLIC ‘GRADUATES’ TO ALHAVEN
Alhaven Residence Club is a beautifully furnished three-story frame building at 715 Ashbury street—comparable to any group living facility in San Francisco. The only difference is that Alhaven’s 10 residents are all reformed alcoholics. One of them is Ed, the 34-year-old businessman who lived on Skid Row half a year ago. You couldn’t tell that, though, by talking to Ed today. Like the others at Alhaven, Ed is a working member of the community, 100 percent sober. “I guess it’s the aim of every one entering First Step Home to move up here, like I did,” Ed said. First Step Home at 3804 Seventeenth Street is the initial facility in San Francisco's unique Alcoholic Rehabilitation Association program of helping people fight drink. The residence club is the second and newest step.
THEY PAY RENT
Leased by the ARA in October, through an anonymous grant, Alhaven will soon be self supporting, since its members pay rent, according to Frank Ormsby, ARA Executive Secretary, and himself an ex-alcoholic. And the residents, like residents of every other living group or boarding house in the city bring home steady paychecks from respectable and responsible jobs. But at night, after a day’s work, there are no cocktails served at Alhaven, not any brief stops by residents for a “pick-me-up”, at a tavern. It’s always “coffee break” time at Alhaven. “We figure that coffee is our greatest expense,” Ed smiled. “Alhaven and First Step Home together use about 30 pounds a week— a pound of coffee per person.” Life at the residence club centers in the bright red and green kitchen, as it does in most homes. For Alhaven is home to its residents, as First Step Home is the new family center of all the alcoholics who enter its doors.
There is constant contact between 17th St. and Ashbury Street, for those who have completed the first step want to help others do likewise. They want those “coming up from the ranks” at First Step Home to have a place into which they may “graduate,” if they don’t wish to return to their former environments. Ormsby, a dedicated businessman with a vision partly hard facts and partly hopeful ideas, aims at “a complete hotel run by ARA.” We’re still in the embryo stage in all our planning,” Ormsby said, but we keep going.” And the ARA phone keeps ringing, with offers of jobs as well as pleas for help. Ormsby answers them all.
WORKS LONG HOURS
If he gets discouraged by the amount of work that keeps him moving most of the 24 hours—contacting groups for aid, always turning a sympathetic ear to the beginner in sobriety —Ormbsby doesn’t say so. He can always look at people like Ed, living proof that ARA has something. It’s proof, to Ormsby, that a solution to the alcoholic problem has been found in San Francisco, a solution worked out by alcoholics, practiced by alcoholics and ready to help alcoholics. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Ed, the typical ARA member, said. “ARA studies all the various research programs on alcoholism the board can find. We practice on one another, keeping each other sober—for we know what it’s like as non-alcoholics never could. “And, what we think is most important, the association brings people back to normal living in a home and family atmosphere.” “You might say I owe my life to ARA,” he added, quietly voicing the opinion of the 100 alcoholics who have found a useful and meaningful life through San Francisco’s pioneer ARA.