It’s a dog’s life, some say. Many Americans wish they had it even that good. Just ask a homeless person. We’re spending more on our pets than on our fellow humans forced to live in cars, alleyways and temporary shelters. According to NBC News, the American Pet Products Association estimates nearly $61 billion will be spent on pets this year. Meanwhile, as reported in the Huffington Post April past, the combined efforts of the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans, Health and Human Services, and Education total just $4.5 billion. We’re happy to give Fifi her own designer label sweater, but look the other way when passing an old woman camped out in a doorway.
Marc Marois is trying to change this. He is one man, a quiet man in a quiet army, trying to fight the good fight, a fight to eliminate chronic homelessness for nearly 600,000 Americans. Marc is no well-heeled do-gooder trying to help “the little people.” He’s no stranger to living in a hotel, no fixed address, no idea where the next meal is coming from. Nor is he a social dropout, a repentant alcoholic or drug addict. The history of Marc Marois is frighteningly too conventional, too uncomfortably close to home to the American middle class. Because his story shakes us out of our cushy complacency, a haunting reminder of our own vulnerability to Fate. It makes us squirm in our seats, because if it could happen to Marc, it could happen to us: There but for the grace of God go I.
Marc was a successful realtor and real estate speculator in the early 2000’s. He recognized opportunities and built wealth for himself and his two sons. With three years of college but no degree, Marc knew to make it he would have to work harder and be more clever than the next guy; and he was. He made a good life for himself and his family.
His world upended in late 2007 when Florida’s real estate rocket went into a downward trajectory. From a comfortable home and an enviable lifestyle, seemingly overnight he found himself without assets, without a future … and without a home.
“If it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody”, he says. “People think they’re immune, but they don’t realize how close disaster is. And in today’s economy, the risk is even greater.”
His views are backed up by facts. According to a report based on U.S. Census data by the Russian news network RT.com, – less inclined to whitewash unpleasant statistics – more than one in four renters in the U.S. now spend fully half their family’s income on housing and utilities. That’s a 26 percent increase since the start of the Great Recession, the one from which we’re supposed to be recovering. RT cites an analysis by Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing advocate, that found that before the Recession began, 31 percent of Americans rented. Today, it’s 36 percent. 11.25 million families are paying at least half of their income for rent. Stagnant wages combine with rising rents to create a perfect storm of vulnerability. The analysis also identified Florida as one of the four states most impacted.
But Marc Marois and a growing number of volunteers and entrepreneurs are not sitting on the sidelines watching the suffering. They’re doing something about it. In the coming installments we’ll learn more about Marc’s start-up nonprofit that’s making a difference in people’s lives. It’s Giving Hope, and it’s rightly named, because that’s exactly what it’s doing. Follow his story as we tell it, because Marc is the sort of quiet hero that won’t tell it himself. Marc isn’t a talker; he’s a doer. He gets things done. He clawed his way back from the abyss, and now is giving others a hand up, but not a handout. Marc Marois and Giving Hope are meeting a need of an unseen and unheard multitude. They deserve our attention and our respect.
By James Blackburn
Mr. Blackburn is a freelance writer living in Venice.
He can be reached at email@example.com