An extended stretch of joblessness, even in a county known for its pockets of affluence, can trigger a swift, shocking collapse that turns haves into have-nots. Meet some hard-working locals who have walked that thin line—and learn about the organizations in and around Boca that keep hope alive for those on the brink of losing everything.

Marc speaks quietly and modestly—but proudly—about being an Army Ranger, one of the toughest of the tough. He was part of a battalion known for going places. Once called upon, Army Rangers can be deployed anywhere in the world in 18 hours.

He’d spent two years in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. He was a member of an esteemed “high-speed unit,” one that maintained a higher tempo than others, meaning fewer breaks and tougher assignments—like four days nonstop in enemy territory.

But even that couldn’t prepare this elite soldier for the battles he would face after returning to Boca Raton in 2004.

Marc was working as an account executive for a company that sold car warranties to dealerships when the firm was bought out. In order to keep his job, Marc was told he’d have to move. But Boca was home; he and his wife, who he had married in 2008, were settled and starting a family. He turned down the transfer, assuming he’d be all right.

But Marc couldn’t nail anything down. With decent-paying jobs scarce, his military experience and bachelor’s degree (from the University of Colorado) were not enough to compete with the rest of the candidates.

The stress of being jobless exacerbated post-traumatic stress symptoms. Marc developed a drinking problem. His marriage grew strained, spawning run-ins with police over domestic violence. Eventually, his wife left, taking their daughter with her. He lived in their new house alone—but, soon, that too was gone.

He moved from place to place, until, last year, he found a temporary sanctuary—behind a Dumpster next to a Publix supermarket off Federal Highway.

“I would get up, go in that Publix, spend the last of my money, buy beer, and go back to that Dumpster,” says Marc, now in his late 30s, from a meeting room at The Lord’s Place, the Boynton Beach-based nonprofit where he finally sought help. “With it being concealed, I felt safe.”

One day, as he sat there, he realized he’d lost everything. Everything, it seemed, but the can of beer on the ground next to him. Marc had become one of an estimated 3,228 people, according to the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, without a place to live on any given day—right here, in a stretch of Florida known around the world for its pockets of affluence.

Even the toughest of the tough, it turns out, can crumble under the weight of a global recession...

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