Blood, Sweat & Fears
How Jim Martin is saving souls—one house at a time.
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“When I moved here, I thought I would be in and out,” Martin says. “I thought, ‘This is not the place for me.’ I thought of these people as below me.” He says it almost with a tone of disbelief. “But, man, these people are way above me, way up here”—he raises his hand over his head—“way higher than me.”
So for the past three years of his life—his three years clean and sober—Jim Martin, once homeless, has tried to find places for as many homeless people as possible. Personally involved in the establishment of well over 20 houses like 1 New St., he has succeeded spectacularly, due largely to the efficacy of the housing model and to the commitment of guys like Amaro, guys who understand that, in Martin’s view, the way to a better self—a better society—is through service to others.
Sadly, Martin has also managed to achieve a bit of notoriety, partly because of a burned bridge or two, partly because when you put a bunch of troubled souls together, well, things are going to happen. Sometimes those things are really bad things.
But Martin has to keep pushing, because there are too many people without homes, too many innocent victims of circumstance, too many good people with bad habits who have made costly mistakes. Because it’s useless to proclaim faith if you don’t live it.
And because, sometimes, you just know something can work.
“Life is messy,” Martin says, “extremely messy. And that’s OK. It’s in cleaning things up that you learn the most.”
There are drunks who are born and drunks who are made. Jim Martin, 51, unknowingly started making himself into a drunk when he took his first drink at age 14. He drank at parties through his years at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa. And like so many students in an area full of colleges and college bars, he continued to party through his years at Villanova University. Drinking was fun, but Martin tried to keep it in its place. He had responsibilities, and he took them seriously.
Martin completed a degree in general studies in 1985. In 1988, he married his college girlfriend and moved to Willow Grove. The couple had the first of three children in 1990.
By then, Martin had started a head hunting company. He had also started to drink daily, scotch and water, as a way to ease his stress. At about the same time, his company failed. He went to work in the library at Villanova, with an eye toward free tuition for his kids, and supplemented his income with jobs as a handyman and home remodeler. Remodeling eventually became his full-time occupation. Then in 2003, he ran for election to the Upper Moreland Township Commission. Against all odds, Martin, a political unknown, won a seat. He served four years.
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