Shepherd’s Office leader Jim Martin is a survivor

Homeless advocate goes from addiction and the streets to helping others
February 20, 2024

Jim Martin calls himself a survivor, and that’s an understatement.

He was an addict who lost everything and ended up on the streets of Wilmington. He’s lived in a tent and moved from shelter to shelter, ending up in the Cape Region.

Little did he know then that his life would be dedicated to helping the homeless. Over the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of homeless people and recovering addicts.

He got on track when he moved to an Oxford House for recovering addicts in Lewes. He ended up as an outreach worker and started 23 new houses. In spite of his success, he was let go. Then he helped establish Acceptance, Change and Empowerment Centers in Seaford and Georgetown, and lost that job as well.

“But I’m a survivor, and I can rise from the ashes,” he said.

With no job prospects, he was approached to help create a homeless program in Georgetown. Thus, the Shepherd’s Office was founded in 2018 in the former Bodie’s convenience store headquarters on North Bedford Street. “And we’ve grown each year and almost doubled the number of meals we give away each year,” he said.

Today, Martin helps provide a lifeline to the homeless who have no other advocate speaking for them or working on their behalf. The office received a Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award in 2020.

A downward spiral

Martin’s life started spiraling downward after he was injured on the job and got addicted to OxyContin. He mixed that with alcohol just to get through the day, he said.

It didn’t take long for the former seminary student to lose his contracting business, and heartbreakingly, his wife of 20 years and three children. Fortunately, he has been able to reconnect with his children (and now has grandchildren), and has married again.

2008 was a pivotal year in his life. Homeless, he stayed at the House of Joseph in Philadelphia and eventually ended up at Casa San Francisco in Milton. He stopped drinking Sept. 2 and started on the road to sobriety, ending up working for Oxford House after getting accepted at a house in Lewes.

“Everything that has occurred since that day has been in God’s hands,” he said. “When I hit bottom, I turned to God, and he lifted me up. Oxford House helped change my life.”

Shepherd’s Office

“Shepherd’s Office is neutral ground where people can meet safely and change their lives,” Martin said. “We try our best to help people change.”

Martin understands the plight of the homeless, because he’s lived that lifestyle.

While lunches and dinners are the main focus of Shepherd’s Office, that’s not the only mission. Martin, 63, and his small army of volunteers provide much-needed supplies and referrals to the homeless people who have come to rely on the program.

Martin also holds a weekly Sunday church service, offers Bible classes and starts each day at 8:30 a.m. with a prayer.

Shepherd’s Office also provides assistance to homeless folks who are seeking a place to stay by purchasing hotel rooms with donated funds from the public. He uses social media postings to get out stories out about homeless individuals who have needs.

Those needs could include gas money, transportation assistance, hotel rooms or help purchasing medications. Every day presents a new challenge.

“Now, getting hotel rooms can be hard. People get upset when they find out homeless people are there. It’s a no-win situation for them, because nobody wants them,” Martin said.

Martin said he can’t say enough good things about the dedicated volunteers who support the program. “And the amount of support we get from the Lewes-Rehoboth area is amazing,” he said.

While Shepherd’s Office is not a residential program, there are shelters available.

Martin said the Code Purple winter homeless shelters and the Springboard Collaborative Pallet Village for the homeless are critical programs.

“The Pallet Village is really helping people in a positive way. People I knew before and after being there have seen a total transformation. Just having a warm, safe place to stay means everything,” he said.

The meals mission

Martin said right from the start, the meals mission was designed to provide healthy, home-cooked meals to the homeless and hungry.

A free dinner for 200 to 300 people is served Monday to Friday and Sunday. “We have really ramped it up because we want everyone to eat healthy. We’re almost like a restaurant now,” he said.

Because the office does not have a commercial kitchen, all food is cooked by volunteers who bring it to Shepherd’s Office where more volunteers keep it ready to serve using slow cookers. Martin said there are at least 300 people who provide food for the program from all parts of the county.

Over the past six years, Shepherd’s Office has provided more than 100,000 free meals. It’s grown from 1,879 meals in 2018 to 17,328 in 2021 and an amazing 46,226 meals in 2023. “We are really maxed out,” Martin said.

The program also provides 200 to 300 brown-bag lunches each day with the help of donations from the Delaware Food Bank.

“The Food Bank has adopted us as one of their hunger relief partners. They provide a lot of food that we would otherwise have to purchase,” Martin said.

Shepherd’s Office also provides a food pantry as well using donations from the Food Bank.

Stag Run Farms, located between Georgetown and Seaford, provides fresh produce during the summer.

Homeless in Sussex

Martin estimates there are about 10,000 homeless people in Sussex County. That includes the chronic homeless, those taking part in programs, and those living with friends or relatives.

It also includes a group he calls the invisible homeless.

“They are working but can’t afford rent, so many of them live in their cars. They want to be invisible,” Martin said.

He said many purchase gym memberships so they can use the showers before going to work. “They go out of their way not to be recognized,” he added.

Martin said while many homeless are actively trying to better their lives, there is another group he calls the rough roofless. He said these are individuals who don’t want help, and in the process, they give all homeless people a bad name. “We accept who they are and try to work with that,” Martin said.

“A lot of them are alcoholics who hang out and drink along the railroad tracks in Georgetown,” he said. “They live really rough; they don’t care, and they steal and rob. They drink themselves silly, leave piles of trash and sleep right there along the tracks. I don’t know how they survive.”

But even as hard as that group is, Martin said he can’t give up on them. “If we can reach one of them, it’s worth trying,” he said.






  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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