God Goes Digital: Georgetown couple homing in on the homeless

GEORGETOWN — Jim Martin knows all about being homeless.

That’s what he was when he migrated from New Castle County to coastal Sussex County about nine years ago.

Jim Martin

Today, he and his wife Cat Stenger Martin are a tag-team act dedicated to help the homeless.

And their mission has gone digital.

Social media — Facebook in particular — is the medium for God Goes Digital, which brings instantaneous awareness to people’s homeless plight to the worldwide web universe.

“It gets out to like 5,000 to 10,000 people, possibly. I’m up to 5,000 friends and have quite a bit of followers,” said Mr. Martin. “I’m using that audience. Some of my friends are very involved with the homeless advocacy. I can think of like 100 people right now at the top of my head that really care about the homeless. They are trying to figure out solutions. That is my audience.”

After seven years tackling homelessness, unemployment and addiction recovery scenarios with A.C.E. Peer Resource Centers in Seaford and Georgetown, Mr. Martin left in late November to embark on a new road down life’s pathway.

“For a few months I was thinking about this, thinking, you know, what do I really want to do when I grow up?” said Mr. Martin. “It was percolating in my brain that while I was at the A.C.E. Center I often used social media as a way of getting help for people. So, I thought I could just focus on that and stay in that lane. And focus 100 percent of your time doing that.”

“Then this God Goes Digital thing kind of popped into my brain about what it exactly is,” said Mr. Martin. “It’s basically someone gave me a space — there is digital space that is called Facebook — and somehow I am able to exist on Facebook rent-free.”

Their unique initiative has help. The Shepherd’s Office on North Bedford Street in Georgetown is a gathering spot.

“I like having a place offering people a warm spot. Shepherd’s Office is there for us,” said Mr. Martin.

There’s also the Georgetown Wesleyan Church on North Bedford Street, which offers free lunch for the homeless Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“The point is whenever the A.C.E. Center is closed, the Shepherd’s Office is going to be open,” said Mr. Martin. “We’ll be open like a couple days a week. Then the rest of the time I’ll go to the people, to where they are — a motel room. God Goes Digital is mobile. I’m going to where they are.”

“I just try to caution him in situations,” said Ms. Martin. “I don’t like the idea when he goes inside places or goes to places because there are dangerous places. I like to be with him, just going into a motel room … also like to caution him about stories; it’s not a hand-up story it’s a handout story.”

“What I’m trying to do is focus like a laser beam on the homelessness problem,” Mr. Martin said. “I’m going to focus like a laser beam with the help of my wife Cathy. We are co-partners in this. She is the brains behind the operation. I’m the guy that causes all the car accidents. They call me Crazy Jimmy.”

From a garage loft at a quarter-house, Mr. and Ms. Martin now call a house on South Bedford Street home.

“And another beautiful thing that happened in my life is someone gifted us a house — literally,” Mr. Martin said “We signed sort of a lease agreement, basically it’s for $1 month for whenever. I’m very grateful. I have to pay utility, cable and bills, but as far as rent I’m living without having to worry about a rent payment or a mortgage payment. This happened in August.”

Their income isn’t generated by 5-to-9, punch-the-clock jobs. In return for their efforts to help the homeless, donations from the community are sought, welcomed and funneled through Georgetown Presbyterian Church and TAP (Talented Addressless Person) Faith, a 501 (c) 3 organization.

“My point to the community is if I’m doing a good job, give me $10 a month. I think that’s fair. I can’t do it for free. I arrived at $10 a month thinking I could get about 100 supporters, give or take a few. That’s $1,000 a month. I can live on $1,000 a month,” said Mr. Martin. “I’ll take more but $1,000 is right where I want to be because I’m thinking I want to qualify for Medicaid. I’m trying to get the Cadillac health plan.”

“We both are like that,” said Ms. Martin. “We both have a heart for helping people. Jim is like the Pied Piper of homeless. We are not out to make money.”

“I’m motivated to make the minimum. I’m a minimalist,” said Mr. Martin. “I’m not money motivated. I want to pay my bills so what I’m doing is I’m funneling it through the church, Georgetown Presbyterian Church. They are going to account for it. TAP Faith is the umbrella over me. We have a board over there. So, all the money will flow through them and then if they are not happy … like I tell people, if you’re not happy then don’t pay the $10 a month so you can rid of this bum. We’re free agents, now, I mean it’s hard for 100 people to fire me all in one day. I’m thinking 20 percent might. But 80 percent will say, ‘Yeah, Jimmy is doing a good thing.’”

Mr. and Ms. Martin in 2011 founded TAP Faith. Sessions at the church would bring several people — homeless individuals included — to the table for a round-table powwow to help find places to sleep and potential job prospects.

“God Goes Digital allows me to create table on Facebook where I could have 10,000 people at the table instead of just five. That is the power of this social media platform,” said Mr. Martin. “And I am good at it, good at getting into these places. For some reason I know where these people are. People reach out to me.”

“And that is where I am really dependent on other people. I am creating content that is interesting,” said Mr. Martin. “If people want to tap into to the homeless problem in our county all they have to do is go on God Goes Digital and look at a couple videos and they get a sense.”

Ms. Martin is quick to point out, “we’re not case managers.”

For those willing, they will help people create a space on social media so people, such as employers, can contact them through their page.

“We are finding a lot of problems because people don’t know how to navigate the system,” Ms. Martin said.

When there’s a story to be told they are committed to have people tell the truth. That’s not an easy task.

“With God Goes Digital, I’ve got to jump out front. You represent the story yourself, so you could be lying. You have no way to check it out. My thought with God Goes Digital is it is a very transparent thing. So, I can be held accountable very easily,” said Mr. Martin. “What we are trying to do is do a little vetting before we get people on God Goes Digital. Cathy scours their Facebook page and looks for inconsistencies … like, ‘She says she has three children and all of sudden she has no children. Like where are the three kids?’ ‘Oh, they are in foster care. I forgot to tell you that. I don’t care for them?’ That’s a big difference. ‘So, you’re not caring for your kids. I thought you said you were caring for your kids. That is why we are doing this.’”

“We are learning,” Ms. Martin said. “We are making mistakes. But you learn though your mistakes.”

“A lot of people, I say, ‘Hey, you want to go on Facebook live. They’re like ‘no,’ I’m not doing that,’” Mr. Martin said. “Nine times out of 10 that is what the answer is. Every once in a while, you get one person that will say, ‘I’m going on Facebook because I’m desperate. I’m going to tell the truth and I want my life better. And I don’t care what my friends think of me.’”

The Martins, who have been married for about seven years, relish this relationship and the opportunity that carries some uncertainty.

“We’re in a unique position because we have to be each other’s bosses. We have to be able to keep each other accountable,” Ms. Martin said.

“What I am really lousy at Cathy is good at. We are a really good team. Like the two of us together equals like 100. If I was by myself I would just be one,” said Mr. Martin. “She’s like my ground-wire.”

“You’ve got two crazy people and we don’t care what people think of us. We see a serious problem and we are going to do something about it,” said Ms. Martin, whose father, John Stenger, is known as the “Father of Cape Henlopen State Park.” “And we’re going to find out the truth.”

“We’re happy. We’re filled with joy,” said Mr. Martin. “We go to church. We do believe in Jesus. We do have principles.”

Mr. Martin said he felt it was just time to break away from the Georgetown A.C.E. Center, which he said is well staffed and positioned well. Linda Williams, a trained recovery learning specialist with A.C.E, is the administrator of the center. Her husband Michael Williams is pastor of Georgetown Presbyterian Church.

“We have some great leaders that have taken over,” said Mr. Martin. “Linda Williams and Pastor Mike are a dynamic power couple. She is a really good administrator. I lack at being an administrator. My main work is eye-ball to eye-ball, figuring out a situation as they approach. I’m more of a hallway guy. I am more of a guy that is hanging out by the front door — a connection guy. That was always my strong suit.”

“So, it was like I was more of a welcome mat than a doormat. I think people that are serving as doormats have a much more difficult job because there is just a lot of follow through and follow up on. I don’t mind doing that, but I was more of a welcome mat.  The door mat is a much tougher job, dealing with all the ups and downs and in-betweens of case management. I couldn’t spend my day with two people. Id’ rather spend my day with 100 people. It was time for a change.”

“I’m 58 years old,” said Mr. Martin. “I could work at Arby’s if you want me to. I’ll be the fry man over there. But I mean I’ve got some skills. I’ve still got some giddy-up and go. I think my best years are ahead of me as far as productivity. So, it’s God goes Digital. Let’s hope it grows.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.