Maitri came into existence in 1987, when the Zen teacher Issan Dorsey of the Hartford Street Zen Center took in a homeless student dying of AIDS. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro district, Maitri soon grew to become a model eight-bed hospice, a place of solace in a community ravaged by AIDS. As the dynamics of the pandemic changed – new drugs had helped reduce mortality but increased the number of patients living with severe debilitations – Maitri responded flexibly by doubling its capacity and extending care to non-hospice patients. This program expansion coincided with Maitri’s relocation to a state-licensed, custom-designed facility in late 1997. Maitri’s Board of Directors received the Citibank Community Stewardship Award for its vision, foresight and tenacity in seeing this project to completion.

A Brief Note About Maitri’s Founder

Issan_Dorsey“AIDS wakes us up to the fact that life is fatal. It’s not AIDS that’s fatal, if you have AIDS you’re alive.”
– Issan Dorsey

Described as “magnetic, magnanimous and luminous,” Issan (Tommy) Dorsey, the colorful founder of Maitri, created a caring community for hundreds of men and women with AIDS, and left behind a legacy of wisdom and compassion that continues to inspire us today. Issan himself died at Maitri of AIDS-related lymphoma in 1990.

From drug-addled drag queen to Zen master, Issan’s life reflected his innate ability to “charm people senseless.” He left a group of followers devoted to deal with whatever came to the door – “We started the hospice because death came to the door.”

For more details about Issan’s life, see Street Zen by David Schneider, Shambala Publications, 1993.