The road from a statistic to a shot at stability

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

This is a tale about Marvin and Drew, about failure and perseverance, about finding joy amid chaos.

It's also about homelessness, a predicament that becomes more perilous this time of year. Of the region's 11,830 homeless, nearly 7,000 are in the District, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Let's agree, on this day after Christmas, that devoting your life to helping homeless people find their way is a godly act. It is selfless, fraught with frustrations, painful, exhausting and not always rewarding. But there are these angelic moments -- when all the meetings and training and begging for dollars and coordination between churches and agencies come together and you can see a person or a family you have coaxed back to self-sufficiency.

This is such a moment for Friendship Place, perhaps the city's most successful organization for helping the homeless. The nonprofit, based in D.C.'s Tenleytown, is celebrating the milestone of finding a job for its 100th homeless client. It's also a wonderful moment for Marvin Roane, 61, who got one of those jobs.

Marvin's story feels familiar. He was born in Newport News, Va., and came to D.C. with his mother in 1957. He was one of eight children. He went to D.C. public schools through high school.

"I have been on my own since the age of 14," he tells me.

Marvin always worked. At M & S Market on Upshur Street near McMillan Reservoir, he worked his way up from cashier to deliveryman to butcher to stock clerk. At Rock Creek Cemetery, he started landscaping and moved up to heavy-equipment operator. In 1978, he enrolled in Lincoln Tech and learned to be a master mechanic. Marvin married early and had two boys. The marriage ended in divorce. He always worked, but he never put down roots and bought a home.

Marvin switched from fixing cars to his first love -- landscaping. When he lost his job working on the grounds of the Supreme Court, he was broke and homeless. He found himself at a homeless shelter on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Anacostia. "The ranch, we call it," he tells me.

Marvin worked hard at finding work. He followed a routine: up at 7, four buses to the Reeves Center for job postings, lunch at St. Columba's Church, visits to Friendship Place, where he met staff member Drew Gossett.

"Drew made me feel like a person," says Marvin. "We hit it off. Friendship Place offers so much, from showers to computers. If I have a problem, they can help fix it."

Drew Gossett helped open doors for Marvin. Friendship Place's job program relies on support from nearby churches, private donors and foundations. It has job training programs with the Sheridan Group, a lobbyist and Marriott. Gossett helped Marvin land a job at Block by Block, a company that grooms, plants and cleans the streets of Georgetown. He's been at it a year and a half, lives in his own apartment, is off the homeless roles.

"God helps those who help themselves," Marvin says.

Amen.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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