Heroes of Marin 2016
Role Model: Harold Grant
By Dani Burlison
As the Bay Area housing crisis shows no signs of retreating and more and more people are finding themselves homeless in the North Bay, Community Action Marin’s Harold Grant—the recipient of this year’s Heroes of Marin Role Model award—spends his time engaging with homeless, mentally ill and substance-addicted people in downtown San Rafael.
“We either get them in treatment, get them to the hospital—we do anything we can to help people as much as they need it,” says Grant, the agency’s CARE Team II peer counselor and supervisor. “Sometimes my clients call me when they just want someone to listen to them.”
CARE Team II consists of Grant and a colleague and is currently funded through Marin County Probation Department’s Community Corrections Partnership. The services they offer are varied, but mainly consist of finding support for those living on the streets through referrals to, and collaborations with, other agencies including Adult Protective Services, Marin Health and Human Services’ Public Guardian program, St. Vincent de Paul, the Novato Human Needs Center, Canal Alliance, local law enforcement and more.
Grant says that his days are anything but typical. On any given day, he might be responding to phone calls from business owners concerned about people sleeping in their doorways or helping to connect homeless people with temporary shelter, mental health services and substance abuse programs. Recently, he helped a pregnant woman get off the streets and into a program in San Francisco, where she and her newborn baby have shelter, counseling and support to get them through the next year and back on their feet. Grant even helped plan a client’s memorial service when he died. Because of the wide range of needs within the homeless population, Grant never knows what each day will bring him.
“Everything varies and we just go along,” he says. “Whatever comes up is what we do.”
A native of Los Angeles, Grant made his way north to Marin County nearly 20 years ago and soon found himself living on the streets and self-medicating his mental health issues with alcohol. According to a colleague, at one point Grant described himself as “hopeless” and never believed that he could be a productive member of society. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and struggled with alcoholism for a number of years.
Then suddenly something changed.
“I was out there drinking and homeless myself so I said to myself, ‘I’m going to devise ways to not be homeless and make some changes that are more positive,’” Grant says.
He then came into contact with the very agency he works for today—Community Action Marin—and decided to take a peer counseling class that they were offering. He went on to complete a certificate program, found work washing dishes at St.Vincent de Paul and eventually landed a position as a peer counselor with the Enterprise Resource Center, where he worked with clients for nearly five years. He attended more training and began working with the CARE Team II, where he has been a supervisor since 2008.
It has been a long, rewarding and sometimes challenging journey for Grant.
“Some of the system is broken so we have to negotiate around things that aren’t working and we have to come up with innovative ideas so we can help people,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges I have. We’re pretty successful but there are times we fail, too.”
Yet Grant, through his own substance abuse, mental and physical health struggles (he successfully battled throat cancer), has never faltered in his desire to help those who need it the most. He is dedicated, compassionate and hardworking when it comes to serving his clients.
“When I was homeless there was no such thing as a CARE Team and now I’m happy to be a part of it,” Grant says. “It is so important because sometimes people don’t have anyone else and all they have is me or my colleague, and sometimes we are the only way they can get what they need.
“It is very important that we’re here; people tell us that all of the time,” he continues. “A lot of times, their parents don’t even want anything to do with them and it’s really a sad thing. So I tell people, ‘Let’s work together so you can get out of this situation.’ I know we can’t help everybody, but those we do help, it is really rewarding.”
As housing prices skyrocket and services seem to become less and less accessible, Grant does everything he can to close the gap between people on the streets and the potential for turning their lives around. Marin County is so lucky to have him.
“Everybody is important,” he says of the rewarding work that he does. “Everyone deserves the right to get help.”