Blood, Sweat & Fears
How Jim Martin is saving souls—one house at a time.
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Martin would open personally 10 Oxford homes and work on a dozen more over the next two years. He has helped hundreds of people, which has made him friends across the state and earned a prestigious Jefferson Award for public service from WBOC-TV16 in March. Now he wants to open a total of 100 similar properties over the next 10 years. Yet the problem of homelessness in Delaware is so big, he says, even 100 places barely make a dent.
Martin has a wide, square face with a cleft chin, clear blue eyes framed by long lashes, and a slightly unruly thatch of brown hair with a touch of gray. He is of medium height, with broad shoulders and a thick, powerful middle. He is polite and affable.
He is piloting his 25-year-old Mercedes Benz 560SEL down U.S. 113. It’s a nice car, even if it’s showing its age. He bought it from a landlord who was sympathetic to his situation and to his cause. Just about all of Martin’s discretionary income—which is not much—goes into the gas tank so he can do his work. At the moment, he is headed toward a place outside Millsboro, a sprawling seven-bedroom, five-bath home in a neighborhood called Quiet Acres.
“This is the house that got me in hot water with the Oxford House people. It’s in the middle of nowhere,” Martin says. “But it’s only $1,600 a month. It’s so affordable, I thought the guys could all save enough to buy cars.” It hasn’t worked out quite that way, but it is limping along.
Oxford House operates like this: Several residents pay equal shares of the rent and utilities for their homes, which are in typical neighborhoods where public transportation is readily available. While they live there, they must maintain a job and attend regular meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous. They are subject to random urine testing. A bad test gets you booted.
Every resident has mandatory chores, and several act as officers in the house. Everyone meets weekly to take care of house business. The entire group votes on who they allow to live with them, and when someone screws up, they can vote him out. The idea is that, before someone relapses, the other residents will recognize the signs and intercede, help him along. And if he is kicked out, he may be admitted again, if his renewed effort at recovery is sincere.
It’s a good deal. Anyone can move into a fully furnished home without making a big security deposit or getting a credit check, they can stay there for about $100 a week, and they are surrounded by people who understand their issues.
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