Grace Beyond Borders provides hope to homeless, those struggling with addiction
The nonprofit was incorporated in 2013 to combat homelessness, mental illness and addictions in Northwest Indiana.
“We are an organization fighting hopelessness, helplessness and helping with survival by connecting the often-invisible homeless population in East Chicago and surrounding cities,” Martin said. “The homeless population is not restricted to only those struggling with mental illness and addictions.”
Grace Beyond Borders has provided services to a range of people: from college students, teachers and professors to business staff and even those employed and working — all of whom ended up homeless.
Martin said homelessness in small cities and towns is “invisible,” compared to large cities such as Chicago, and that homeless people “aren’t just those who panhandle.”
“In our communities of Northwest Indiana, most of our homeless neighbors rarely ever panhandle,” Martin said. “Individuals struggling with substance abuse are who comprise the majority of panhandling.”
He said the homeless experience feelings of embarrassment, shame, hopelessness, privacy and failure, which is why they try to stay under the radar from public view.
“We often don’t see those who sleep in garages, vacant apartments, abandoned and personal vehicles, public parks and behind businesses, using businesses’ outdoor outlets to charge phones and to plug in their space heaters,” Martin said.
Martin grew up in East Chicago and said he has fond memories of the racial diversity of his neighborhood while graduating from East Chicago Washington High School in 1971. He continued his education at Texas Christian University where he graduated in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and biology.
From November to December 2018, Martin designed a fundraiser to focus on the homeless plight in Northwest Indiana, a campaign he called “A Night Without A Home.” Martin slept overnight in 30 different locations to better know “invisible neighbors” who spend their lives seeking shelter.
“I learned from a homeless veteran that he would take a shuttle bus, free of charge, from a local NWI casino, travel to Chicago, and sleep overnight on the CTA Red Line train,” Martin said. “And another homeless client said that he stayed overnight in a port-a-potty — all scenarios I replicated to experience it for myself.”
The unconventional “A Night Without A Home” raised funds for the down payment on the purchase of a 6,000-square-foot vacant medical building at 513 W. Chicago Ave. in East Chicago. It was renovated and transformed to an emergency shelter for women and children to end homelessness.
“Volunteers are the heart of our mission growth, and this organization could not progress without the dedicated time and services provided from businesses, churches, individuals and families,” Martin said.
He said, during 2020-2021, a total of $78,824 equivalent in-kind volunteer hours were contributed by churches and businesses to his organization.
Claude Powers, president of Powers and Sons Construction of Gary, one of the many businesses that has assisted Martin’s organization, is one of Martin’s board members. Powers describes him as “a leader by example” who is the “guiding force” of more than 100 dedicated volunteers.
“Being born and raised in Gary and currently living in Merrillville, I wanted to serve on this board and support Marcus,” Powers said. “I have had the privilege of knowing Marcus Martin for over 30 years.”
Powers first met Martin when he served on the board of managers at the John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club in Gary.
“There, Marcus caught my attention with his dedicated passion for making a difference with our youth,” Powers said. “Years later, I saw the same passion and commitment to make a difference with the homeless and hungry when he saw a void that needed to be addressed and he founded Grace Beyond Borders.”
Powers said Martin is a rare individual with a heart of gold who, along with his wife, willingly sacrifices his own comforts daily to answer his spiritual calling to be a servant to those in need.
Martin and Powers said the largest and most crucial support for the organization came from Foundations of East Chicago. Since 2014, FEC has contributed consistently to guarantee both viability and sustainability.
“The board of directors of this foundation and their staff have recognized and supported our mission work to address the homeless crisis in East Chicago and supported our women and children mission by signing 20-year and three-year mortgage loans most recently on February 26, 2020, for our former medical center as the culmination of a seven-year vision,” Martin said.
He said the organization’s challenge over the next three years is its capital campaign to raise $2.3 million needed for five years of the operational expenses for a 24-7 mission to assist the community’s chronically homeless, hopeless and helpless neighbors.