It was the summer of ’69.
Well, we’re not exactly sure if it was in the summer, but back in 1969, a group of community residents, professionals, and students joined together to address the growing problem of drug abuse among young people in the community. In 1970, Grassroots received a demonstration grant from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and we were on our way. Back then, the primary services which included a Hotline and informal overnight shelter, were provided by a combination of paid staff and trained volunteers.
Throughout the next several years additional problems were addressed by the agency including family problems and suicide intervention. Outreach counseling programs to the county detention center and hospital were established, and other groups began using the counselor training program for their staffs and volunteers. The training program developed into a valuable contribution to community life. A TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) was acquired in 1978 to make services available to the hearing and speech impaired community. In 1981, Grassroots began operating the Audrey Robbins shelter, thus improving the capabilities of the emergency shelter.
In January of 1981, Grassroots co-located with other non-profit service agencies to create The Harriet Tubman Center. In 1989, with County, State and Federal support, the facility was expanded to house a 20-bed emergency shelter and 12-bed transitional housing program staffed and operated by Grassroots. Fast forward another seven years to January 1996, when the transitional program for families was moved to The Miles House in a residential neighborhood in historic Ellicott City. The space at Grassroots vacated by the program was christened the Randy Sands Men’s Shelter, a 12-bed emergency and transitional program for homeless adult men.
In recent years, the Crisis Intervention Services have expanded to include a special program for runaways and their families, and a Mobile Crisis Team that operates in partnership with Humanim, the Police Department, and the Mental Health Authority. The team consists of two master’s level counselors who respond with the police to psychiatric emergencies and family crises in the community. The Crisis Services also include 24-hour hotlines and walk-in counseling for anyone in need of immediate assistance. Outreach services have also been expanded to include on-site services at the North Laurel-Savage multi-service Center and the Elkridge Food Bank. Additionally, several agencies contract with Grassroots to provide after-hours emergency contact for their clients or to answer specialized hotlines.
In the fall of 2003, Grassroots led a multi-agency collaborative effort with the faith community to implement a cold weather shelter to address the problem of the growing numbers of turnaways for shelter due to lack of space. The program opened in January 2004 and continues each year from November through March.
Which brings us to today.
In the late 1990s, we undertook a strategic planning initiative that resulted in a much clearer picture of what it would take to support the Howard County community in the years ahead. To meet the growing demand for our services it was determined that we needed to expand our facility and thereby expand our services. Ten years later, that facility is complete, thanks to a strong partnership with the county government and the support of so many thoughtful individuals, companies, organizations, and faith-based groups. The newly-expanded Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center stands taller than ever on Freetown Road in Columbia. Today, our staff has grown to include more than 50 full-time and part-time employees, complemented by volunteers in all programs.