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From Near Death to Director, Ex-Inmate Opens Transitional Living Center

Shirley LaMarr opened Mz Shirliz Transitional Living after her life was saved through a rehabilitation program.

Shirley LaMarr lives a life of vibrancy that can only truly be appreciated by those who have felt the most debilitating darkness. Marked by a past of heroine addiction, negligent parenting, terrorizing violence, prostitution and homlessness, LaMarr measures the beauty of each day alongside the knowledge that without a gracious hand she would be dead.

“I know what the depths of hell feel like,” LaMarr said. “I can’t explain it, but I can feel it and taste it.”

A former inmate, LaMarr said her life was transformed when she was enrolled in the residential rehabilitation service Delancey Street in San Francisco.

“I would have been dead, there’s no doubt in my mind,” LaMarr said when she thought of her life without Delancey Street. “I would have killed someone or they would have killed me.”

When the program revived her health, mind and self-worth, LaMarr was able to revive the strength inspired by her grandmother and realize her dynamism for assisting those in dire need.

“That little piece had lived in me, so when I went to Delancey Street it was reformed,” she said. “My quest or my place was to help people, and when I left that’s what I wanted to do.”

LaMarr, who has served as the Director of the in-custody program Choices at the for nearly 6 years, opened the doors to Mz. Shirliz Transitional Living Center in Redwood City to provide hope to those who wish to revive their lives.

“This woman, she moves people to places,” said Angela Taylor of the inmate reintegration program Achieve 180. “It’s emotional who she is and what she means to people.”

Taylor looked at LaMarr as the tears began to swell.

“It means something more than what words can mean,” she said.

LaMarr, who recently received the Jefferson Award for her service to the community, began her work at Choices nearly 20 years ago, and since then has changed lives. She hopes to continue her unprecedented track record with Mz Shirliz Transitional Living.

“I hope to fill in the gaps of the criminal justice system,” LaMarr said. “And there’s a lot of gaps. A lot of these guys, if they don’t find a safe place they’re likely to fall prey.”

The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization moved into 1718 Broadway Street July 1 to bring a safe, sober environment.

The building, illuminated with floor to ceiling windows, provides shelter and food and includes a computer lab where residents will be tutored in computer programs and have the ability to attend workshops on how to create a resume.

“Many people know how to do simple stuff like social network sites,” said volunteer Marc Shoolman who set up the computer lab in the housing center. “But it’s a lot different when you have to fill out an application on Monster.com.”

LaMarr said she assists individuals with circumstances they may not be familiar with including obtaining a copy of one’s birth certificate, the proper identification needed for employment or the appropriate attire for an interview.

The organization will also begin yoga classes, a GED program and currently holds monthly support groups but is in no way meant to be a substitute for long-term care.

There are only a few requirements in order to be admitted to the transitional housing center.

“They have to be fighting to stay clean and sober,” LaMarr said.

For LaMarr, the development of the organization evokes pride and nostalgia.

“I dreamed about this from the moment I graduated from Delancey,” LaMarr said.

Her CFO Chris O’Dell has stood by her side and assisted her through the project’s development.

“I couldn’t love him any more than if I birthed him myself.” LaMarr said.

However, though the project is not focused on creating any type of revenue, the new organization is already feeling financial pressures.

LaMarr took out a loan in order to begin the organization and it currently runs on individual donations.

“We’re struggling really bad because we didn’t get any funding,” LaMarr said. “If we can keep the doors open we can stay self-sufficient.”

The organization will be holding a Flea Market and barbecue September 24 and 25 to raise funds for their mission.

“I know what it’s like to forge your way up and get up that mountain,” LaMarr said. “You then can grab that and use that to help others stand up.”

Susan Swope September 15, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Kudos to Shirley LaMarr for opening more transitional housing! If every released inmate who needs it had transitional housing, where they could be supported in staying clean and sober, and learn the skills to get and hold an honest job, we could probably halve the recidivism rate.
gail lynch September 21, 2011 at 06:16 AM
Where is the barbecue?
Chris O'Dell September 22, 2011 at 05:42 PM
the barbecue is at the flea market, 1270 Marshall Street, Redwood City saturday and Sunday 8-4 pm
Bob Cancilla October 07, 2011 at 05:27 PM
I have know Ms. LeMarr since she started working with Choices Program at the Women's Jail in Redwood City. She is one powerful lady who starts off each day with a mission " to help anyone that is motivated to help themself." I am proud to call Shirley my friend and will soon be dropping by to visit her new program on Broadway, in Redwood City. Keep up the good work Shirley, you are an angel.
thomas guevara October 22, 2011 at 05:34 PM
my name is thomas guevara i wanna said tanktou to mom shirley lamarr beacuse she is for me like mom she give me the oportunity to change my life arown she make me to see my life diferent. now i am happy and at diferent person living my dignnity and prout myself
Stacie Chan (Editor) October 24, 2011 at 02:16 AM
Hi Thomas, that's so great to hear. In these tough times, it's so inspiring to hear these individual stories. I had the pleasure of running into Shirley at Starbucks Friday, and just from that one meeting I could tell she really is a person who is changing the community for the better. We can all learn a lesson from Ms. Lamarr!
Rick Hunter January 09, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Chris O'Dell and Mz Shirliz Transitional Living are real assets to our community. Last September I went by the Center when measuring the race course for OktobeRun, the run to benefit Redwood City Schools. Chris approached me and asked how they could help. The residents gave us invaluable help by posting signs and placing cones early Saturday morning. Whenever I thank him, Chris simply responds that they just want to be positive members of the community. They sure are!
Artemio Reyes March 08, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Art Reyes Hi i ma Art Reyes. i just want Thanks ms Lammar for all the help she and her team give me. i spend six mounts on her program and was the best time on my life. i will like to know how i can help her help other persons...please let me know.. Thanks
Jonathan Joya May 18, 2012 at 06:29 PM
mz. Shirliz do you have a phone number to reach you at?
Daniel O'Brien April 18, 2013 at 02:02 PM
Ms. Shirley is a true Godsend. Through my experience in the choices program and taking with me her strength I've been clean and sober going on 18 months. Thank you Ms. Shirley for being the strongest part of my foundation. Daniel O'Brien

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