Jim Martin has been helping the homeless, addicted and otherwise indigent in Sussex County for eight years.
"I had a whole life before this, though" he said, "And it chewed me up and spit me out."
Martin's past life began outside of Philadelphia, where he grew up in a loving home. He later married and moved to Montgomery County, Pa., where he and his first wife had three children and spent 20 years together. Martin served as a commissioner in Upper Moreland Township for several years. On paper, his life looked good, but the train was about to derail.
"I basically became Mr. Mom, a stay-at-home dad," he said. That didn't sit well with him psychologically. "I started feeling really vulnerable. My wife owned the house, so she always had the upper hand. I just became this really weak person, and I started drinking."
Martin's wife eventually kicked him out and divorced him, leaving him with a child support bill of more than $2,000 per month that he's still paying off. Being a town commissioner put Martin in the public eye and added to the pressure that was building up. Losing face in the community, owing thousands of dollars, and feeling like he had no control over his alcoholism was all too much. He suffered a psychotic break in 2008 and ended up on the streets of Wilmington, shelter-hopping.
"I didn't want to go into the psychiatric system, I mean, who does? It's a scary place," he said. "So I self-medicated with alcohol. I wanted to be there for my kids, but I felt completely powerless. I wanted to kill myself, but I didn't have anything to do it with. I was completely isolated and very lonely."
However, in Wilmington, with winter looming, Martin was finally able to put down the alcohol - Sept. 2, 2008, specifically.
"I was approved for a 30-day stay at a men's shelter, provided I stayed sober and did my chores. It was getting cold and I didn't want to lose my bed," he said, and for those 30 days, he managed to remain sober.