As a young man, Harold looked for structure in the Royal Canadian Navy—and then in the drug trade. But when his post-service life came apart at the seams, Harold recognized that he needed more than rules. He needed grace.
A rocky childhood set the stage for Harold’s adult decisions
I came from quite a dysfunctional family. My stepfather was in the military, and he was a very, very strict man. My parents were Christian, but many times, we’d go to church, and right after, I’d get a beating for misbehaving. Sometimes I’d come to without remembering what had happened. I was just a child, but that was how they were, and how it was at the time.
I was definitely a wild card though, and my parents did the best they could trying to raise me. My stepfather was very good at providing: I had food, shelter, and all the necessities. But my upbringing was heavy.
Life in the Navy introduced Harold to a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle
When I left home, I knew who God was, and I was familiar with heaven and hell. I knew hell was a bad place, but heaven didn't seem like a great place to me either — it sounded like it was gonna be an eternity of Sundays. And I’d had enough of those.
So when I left home, I went out to experience life. I ended up joining the military and went into the Navy, where I sailed all around the Pacific. In the Navy, you work hard, you play hard. And I started drinking heavily, because that was what you did.
When I got out of service, I had a really difficult time adjusting to civilian life. When you're in the Navy, you always have friends. There's always somebody on ship to hang out with, but that’s not the case in civilian life. So I ended up doing a lot of drinking in bars to recover that sense of camaraderie.
Thinking he could handle anything, Harold dove into the drug scene in Vancouver
I moved to Vancouver to duck an impaired driving charge. I wasn't an alcoholic at that time, but very close — I drank a lot of my take-home pay. I didn’t really know much about addiction, and the military instilled in me the belief that I could handle anything.
One night at a bar, I was introduced to crack. I quickly became dependent on it, and it made an absolute mess of my life. I went as hard on drugs as I did on alcohol, to the point that I ended up losing my job.
And that impaired driving charge turned back up — they put out a warrant for my arrest for not paying for the fine, and I landed in jail. While I was in jail, I got a drug connection and decided to make money dealing drugs instead of living a real life. After I got out, I completely burned bridges with my family, and I came into this whole separate way of life. I wound up on the police radar: I had to move every three or four months, just to try and keep out of reach. That life was a complete dark circle.
It was a connection with Lydia Home that gave Harold his first experience of recovery
Eventually, I decided I’d had enough with the misery and the darkness. And coincidentally, I met UGM’s Lydia Home Manager. My girlfriend and I decided we’d try recovery together, with her at Lydia Home in Mission and me at UGM in Vancouver. In November 1998, I did the three-month recovery program.
After that, I continued my recovery journey by starting my new life here in Vancouver. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I went back to school to get my GED. That’s where I met the incredible woman who became my wife. Then, I got a job in construction, and within four years I went from sweeping an underground parking lot to running a crane. Thanks to that relatively quick transition, I had no lack of confidence in my ability to do anything.
But despite building a new life, Harold hadn’t fully faced his past
I had a beautiful family and things were going well, so I stopped going to recovery meetings. Instead, I was just living life on my own terms.
But even after almost nine years of sobriety, I still hadn't dealt with so many issues. I was calling myself a Christian: Jesus was Lord of my life on Sundays, but the rest of the week, He wasn’t. I felt like He was warning me that if I didn’t change, I was going to lose everything.
Around that time, my wife suddenly had a miscarriage — and because I hadn’t faced my own problems, I couldn't be there emotionally for her. Instead, I relapsed: I was drinking again, and dabbling in coke.
For the first time in my marriage, I started not making it home over the weekends. I was in full-blown self-destruction mode, and when my wife found out, she knew she had to kick me out to protect our children. I don't blame her, but it still broke my heart completely.
He found himself slipping into despair
Losing my family like that, I really felt there was nothing left to live for. Within a year, I went from being a crane operator to living in addiction in the Downtown Eastside. I was unable to feed or clothe myself, and all my money went to drugs and alcohol. This continued for about 15 years. At that point I thought, “Life has got to be more than this.” Because it had become just so empty and meaningless to me.
I went to some pretty dark places, but as I look back, I know God was leading me on a journey toward Himself. Because all my life, I had never really made Him Lord, and I had always trusted in my own ability to handle anything. But addiction took that all away.
At his lowest point, Harold surrendered — and found freedom
I started praying to God, “What do you want me to do? Help me.” Up to this point, I’d been coming to UGM for meals and to do my laundry — I’d accessed pretty much every service — so I came back for recovery. When I got here, I said, “Okay, God, I'm gonna give You my whole heart. Please make something beautiful of this mess.”
I carried this attitude into the program, and the Lord met me. At my darkest point, He loved me. I’m filled with gratitude when I think about everything He’s done for me. I’ve been sober now for three years, and I’m taking things one day at a time. God has brought me this far, and when I look back at His hand in my life, it strengthens me. It truly does.
Today, Harold has turned his focus outward, and he’s determined to help lift up others
During my recovery, UGM was a safe place. It was a light. There are so many people out there who have broken stories, broken lives, and broken dreams — so after I completed the program, I really felt God calling me to stay.
First I was an intern with Shelter & Outreach, and now I'm a Ministry Support Worker. In my role, I get to connect with community members over coffee and meals, and help people find the services they need. I work to meet people’s material needs, but what truly changes lives is relationships.
Every day, I'm meeting with people like me, and I get to pass along hope. I want to speak life and love into the darkness. I want to help people discover their potential and turn their lives around. Every life matters. Everyone has potential. Everyone can be reached.
At UGM, I get to see the Spirit changing hearts. People are living their lives in chains and in bondage. And like it says in Isaiah, it’s our job “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free.” Now, I live my life for other people — and the Lord does the rest.
Thank you for pouring into Harold’s life! By supporting UGM, your care for your neighbour ripples outward to entire communities, one life at a time.
“…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10
As I step into the role of UGM President, I recognize with great humility the legacy and inheritance of care that has been established by Bill, UGM staff, and hundreds of incredible volunteers long before my arrival. I’m reminded of Joshua 24:14: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” This is how Bill has led, and I know you’ll join me in expressing gratitude for his many years of servant-hearted leadership. May the years ahead continue to be fruitful.
My heart as President is to carry on the good work already inherent in the DNA of UGM. I get to become part of an incredible organization that believes in the dignity of every single person who walks through our doors. The work we do isn’t easy, but in some ways, it’s simple: treat each person with respect and compassion. In partnership with God’s goodness, our community members do the rest.
You are making an ongoing difference through UGM’s Outreach programming, where dedicated teams are focused on alleviating suffering and pushing back against poverty, homelessness, and addiction. In Harold’s story, you’ve seen the effect your support — and essential services — can have in the lives of the people around us. Thank you for helping to make these stories of hope possible.
I look forward to getting to know you better in the months and years to come, and to joining you in transforming communities — one life at a time.
In gratitude and hope,
You Can Bring Communities Together This Thanksgiving
For the first time in two years, we’re welcoming community members through our doors for a Thanksgiving meal! We are so looking forward to gathering as a community to celebrate the season with food and fellowship.
For $3.29, you can give the gift of a Thanksgiving meal this fall. Join us in feeding hope and restoring lives.