Commentary: There is unity in the community

By Jim Martin

I am very passionate about helping the homeless, and there is always “unity in the community” when helping the poor and brokenhearted in Sussex County. It is encouraging to learn that others also care as much as I do about trying to make things better for the people who are lonely and hurting on the battlefield of despair.

“So what is the Shepherd’s Office?” This is a question I hear a lot.

Shepherd’s Office is located at 408 N. Bedford St. in Georgetown and open five days a week.

In 2019, we gave out over 20,000 free bottles of water, 10,000 free homecooked meals, 10,000 free loaves of bread, 200 free tents, 100 free bikes and 100 free bus passes. In 2020, we are on pace to increase the number of free items that we provided in 2019. We are now giving out over 700 free, healthy, grab-and-go meals every week. That will be over 35,000 free meals for 2020.

In a physical sense, we are on the front lines of the battlefield of despair and hopelessness. We are an eyeball-to-eyeball, “we see you” hospitality program, and we take a nonjudgmental and accepting approach toward our guests.

We are also known as a “Day Zero” program, which means we accept people in active addiction with zero days of sobriety. We also accept people who are mentally ill and experiencing psychotic breaks or people in the middle of a nervous breakdown. We try our best to navigate them to appropriate community resources around us that are properly equipped to handle these crisis cases. Sadly, in many cases, the only place we can find for them is a quiet spot in the woods with a new tent. More generally speaking, most of our guests have fallen through the cracks of our society’s system of care. They have fallen out of our society, and we see our main job at the Shepherd’s Office as being a guide or helper to our guests. We help them somehow to fall back into society using the tools of kindness, acceptance, water, food, clothing, sobriety meetings, affordable or free shelter, basic provisions, transportation, networking, storytelling, Facebook Live videos and update posts, community building and employment.

Once a person is inside the Shepherd’s Office, we have six departments or areas of focus: the Welcome Center, Trouble Café, Launch Pad, “22 to 2,” the “Me-me’s into We-we’s” Workshop, and Friday night Bible study.

In a spiritual sense, we use the “lost sheep” approach. Over 11 years of being a helper of the homeless, I learned that the quickest way for a lost person to go from total despair and hopelessness to an exciting, striving and thriving stability is to ask God for help. The helpers also ask God for help. Of course, we also accept nonbelievers into our program of hospitality. But they are the ones who don’t seem to find their wellness or stability, falling into the many rabbit holes of addiction, poverty, poor choices, depression and isolation. But we keep trying to help them as best we can.

Jim Martin is director of Shepherd’s Office Inc. in Georgetown.