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.

Volunteer and Guest’s Baby at Cold Weather Shelter.

In recent years, the Crisis Intervention Services have expanded to include a special program for runaways and their families, and a Mobile Crisis Team. 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. 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. The program opened in January 2004 and continues each year from November through March.

In the late 1990s, we undertook a strategic planning initiative that determined we needed to expand our facility and services to meet the growing demand. The new facility on Freetown Road opened in 2008. We opened an expanded Day Resource Center in the new Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center in 2017.

In October of 2023, we expanded our crisis services, moving to a third location at 8990 Old Annapolis Road. While the shelter remains on Freetown Road, the crisis center offers 24-hour walk-in support for any type of crisis, including mental health, substance use, financial, housing and related needs.