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He emerged from homelessness to help others

ROOSEVELT Darby Jr. made it clear to Darren Daulton what it took to deal with the city’s frustrating homeless problem. “It’s an inside job,” he said, tapping his chest.

ROOSEVELT Darby Jr. made it clear to Darren Daulton what it took to deal with the city's frustrating homeless problem.

"It's an inside job," he said, tapping his chest.

What it took, he was trying to say, was heart. And Darby had heart to spare.

In 1994, Daulton, the Phillies' catcher, was touring the facilities of the Philadelphia Committee for the Homeless — to which he was a major contributor — at Broad and Brown streets. Daulton contributed $100 to PCH every time he knocked in a run.

Darby, a peer counselor at the time and later deputy director of the committee, and other staff members took Daulton on a tour.

How did the staff stay motivated in the face of the near-hopeless problems of the city's homeless, many of them addicts, most unskilled or victims of abuse, and in the face of the public's indifference?

"It's an inside job," Darby told Daulton. "There are some homeless-service providers who get confused. They say stuff like, 'We put 'em in a house. We give 'em the training and find 'em jobs. How come that's not sticking? How come they slide backward?'"

He tapped his chest again. "Because," he said, "it's an inside job."

Roosevelt Darby Jr. knew about addiction and homelessness because he had lived through both himself. He had emerged from that dark night of the soul determined to help others like him find the light that would lead back to the land of the living.

He died May 11 of complications from a fall. He was 54 and lived in Sharon Hill.

"What I've learned is that we are all bound by a social contract to help each other out, and the only way that you can keep what you have is to give it away," he was quoted as saying in a Daily News article in 1992. "That means support, and when you give that, you're strengthening and redefining your experience."

Darby grew up in Southwark when the South Philadelphia housing project there was sparkling new. He lived there with his parents, the late Roosevelt Darby and Mae Darby. He graduated from Overbrook High School and went on to Temple University, where he earned a degree in biomedical engineering.

Then he started smoking marijuana with friends at parties, and soon he was using crack cocaine. He wouldn't become addicted, he told himself. But he soon lost his home and a secure job designing computer chips, wound up living in a burned-out building with no windows near 16th and Huntingdon streets with a girlfriend also on the crack pipe. He hit bottom in a Ridge Avenue homeless shelter, "where he realized he was just one more man in a warehouse full of homeless men," the 1992 article said.

"I looked around at the other men," he said. "I was scared to death to sleep in the street. I was homeless. They searched me. It was degrading. I felt isolated. I knew I had to change."

Unlike many homeless and addicted people who litter the city streets, beg money from strangers and weep through the nights in dismal shelters, hopeless and lost, Darby found his way out.

He enrolled in the city's Self-Help Initiative Program in 1990, and got a full-time job there as assistant director of a program for incarcerated men. He worked evenings for his father's janitorial business.

In 1991, he went with the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness, at 802 N. Broad St., where he used what he learned from his own addiction and recovery to give people hope, as well as practical ways out of their plight.

Over the years, Darby was critical of the city's homeless policies. In a Daily News letter to the editor in 2002, he wrote: "Yes, LOVE Park looks great, but consider that 10 city agencies and firms were able to generate nearly a million dollars to refurbish a park, while some Philadelphians are left with no choice but to sleep in them."

In 2001, Comcast gave Darby a Newsmaker of the Year award.

He is survived by his mother, Mae Darby; a daughter, Kimberly Rutledge; a son, Aaron Lassiter; two sisters, Felecia Davenport and Yvonne Darby; a brother, Darryl Darby, and five grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. Friday at First African Baptist Church, 901 Clifton Ave., Sharon Hill. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Eden Cemetery, Collingdale. n

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.