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Staff Spotlight: Wayne Garnett

The first time Erik O. came to St. Anthony’s, he was hungry, humiliated, and struggling to get off drugs. When he arrived on Golden Gate Avenue, he immediately noticed Wayne Garnett, senior manager of St. Anthony’s Community Safety Services.

“I saw him, and I knew he could help me,” says Erik.

His intuition was right. Wayne listened to Erik’s story and told him about Father Alfred Center, St. Anthony’s free, residential recovery program. Today, Erik is ten years clean and works for St. Anthony’s Dining Room. He credits Wayne with starting him on the path of recovery — and he is not the only one. Ask around St. Anthony’s, and you will discover that Wayne has been an important part of many recovery journeys. It is a role that comes naturally to a man who has been through it all himself.

“I always use my experience,” says Wayne. “Because I’ve been a lot of places these people have been. And the solution to a lot of my issues was St. Anthony’s.”

“I seen how much St. Anthony’s affected people’s lives — because it affected mine. This is a place you can come to and change your whole life.”

Born and raised across the Bay in Richmond, Wayne began experimenting with drugs early. He started with weed and alcohol, and was soon swept up in the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

“Crack was the escape,” says Wayne. “Every time I hit crack, I started living in a fantasy world — until I lost myself.”

He was lost for 25 years. Drugs cost him his marriage, his job, and his sense of reality. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. At the age of 40, he entered a rehab program in Concord, where someone told him about St. Anthony’s. In 2000, he arrived at St. Anthony’s addiction recovery center, then known as Seton Hall.

“From there, life started,” says Wayne. “I did not quit.”

Wayne did stints in St. Anthony’s Dining Room and free furniture program, while working at shelters throughout the city. Along the way, he met Fr. Floyd Lotito, who instilled in him the Franciscan value of honoring the inherent dignity in all people. At one point, Wayne told Fr. Floyd that the residents of the shelter where he worked reminded him of his former self — excluded from even life’s small enjoyments, like going to a concert or the movies. Two weeks later, Fr. Floyd gave him 14 tickets to a 49ers game. Wayne knew exactly who they were for.

“They were amazed when they walked into that stadium,” remembers Wayne. “They got caught up in the cheers. One of them was laughing and smiling, but I saw tears come out of his eyes, and I knew what it meant: I’m homeless, and yet I’m here.”

“I use my experience, always. Because I’ve been a lot of places these people have been. And the solution to a lot of my things was St. Anthony’s.”

Eventually, Wayne joined what was then called Client Safety Services. At the time, CSS was in transition. Originally created to keep St. Anthony’s staff and volunteers safe, it had evolved to prioritize the safety of guests as well. That meant that staff had to be trained in de-escalation techniques, learning how to gracefully defuse tense situations.

“The focus is no matter what, remember it’s about the guest. This person is having a crisis just like we all do,” says Wayne.

Today, all CSS staff members participate in nonviolent crisis prevention training, along with courses in first aid, CPR, disability sensitivity, and administering the anti-overdose drug Narcan — which team members do on a weekly basis; in the last 12 months, CSS has reversed 28 overdoses with Narcan.

But perhaps the most important tool CSS has is building relationships with the community, talking to people day after day to earn their trust. It helps that many team members understand the challenges our guests face firsthand, including drug addiction, incarceration, and homelessness.

As CSS has grown, it has become a social enterprise, providing productive work and a livable wage to job-seekers with barriers to employment, while keeping the streets safe. Over half of CSS team members and almost 30% of St. Anthony’s staff overall are former guests. 

“No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done in life, there’s a second chance at St. Anthony’s.”

“When we created the social enterprise, there was the opportunity to open the door fully to people who just want that second chance,” says Wayne. “No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done in life, there’s a second chance at St. Anthony’s.”

Wayne now manages a staff of 70 people and oversees contracts with nine other nonprofit organizations across San Francisco, extending St. Anthony’s service throughout the Tenderloin and beyond. An alternative to traditional security models, CSS embodies St. Anthony’s values, bringing compassion and care to what is sometimes dangerous work.

“It’s your approach to the danger that matters,” says Wayne. “You keep it simple, you keep it respectful, and you work as a team — that’s the most important thing. Everything you do has to be as a team, so you don’t have to face nothing out there alone.”

That’s why Wayne has new staff walk around the neighborhood and write the number of schools and restaurants they see, and report back on something positive.

“Instead of looking at every bad, let’s look at what’s beautiful and how you can contribute to it,” says Wayne.

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