Blood, Sweat & Fears
How Jim Martin is saving souls—one house at a time.
(page 9 of 9)
“That’s why I have to keep pushing,” Martin says. “Because I just know it works. It’s the inmates running the asylum, but it works.”
Martin’s interest in homelessness is nothing new. It started when he was a teen volunteer at a soup kitchen in Camden, N.J., then continued as a 20-year-old seminarian at Villanova. But life—and drinking—got in the way. As Martin’s responsibilities increased, other interests got pushed aside. It took a series of mistakes and a personal experience with homelessness to renew his efforts. Now Martin is a man on fire.
“I didn’t get how you lived your life putting God first,” he says. “I thought I had to make money. That’s why I didn’t make money. The real meaning of life is to look at the other guy and see how you can help. The guys in these houses, they get it. They’re the best people in the world because they get it about life. The people I was with before were the most selfish.”
When he divorced in 2009, he let his ex-wife and children have everything—their home, retirement accounts, savings and other assets—as a sort of penance for his years of drinking and deceit.
“I was 48 years old. It was like I was coming out of high school again. I could get a job at Royal Farms. I could get a job at McDonald’s. I could get a retail sales job. I worked my way into poverty over 20 years. It was stupid.”
So when it comes to shared housing, Martin is walking the walk. As a $13-an-hour wage earner, he is in a nebulous middle group, making too little to cover his living expenses on his own, but too much to be truly homeless. So he and his new wife share the rent and expenses on their home in Georgetown.
“What we’re finding is that transitional housing doesn’t have to be temporary,” Martin says. “It can be permanent. There’s a nucleus of guys at each house who live like this. It’s a great way to live. With a little bit of money, you can actually have a life.”
He estimates that there are more than 100,000 people like him in Delaware—”extremely low-income” people in official parlance, more commonly known as the working poor—and they are a few bills away from becoming homeless. About 1,400 people stay in homeless shelters or motels on any given night, according to the Delaware Housing Coalition—Martin says there are probably another 1,000 on the street—and 6,000 people go homeless at some time during the year.
So opening 100 homes—finding a place for 1,000 people—over the next 10 years, hardly eliminates the need, Martin says, but it is something he will continue to work for. He’s starting one now for men in recovery, in Seaford, for his current employer. “I’m one of the guys,” he says. “I’ve been there.”
And like Eric Amaro, who feels so inspired to want more, Martin has dreams. One day soon, he hopes, he and his wife will take over a local bed and breakfast from a woman who, impressed by his work, will let them live there the rest of their days. They will, naturally, convert it to transitional housing.
“At least, that’s the hope,” he says. “You never know how life will go. We take it one day at a time.