My name is Michael. I am a former resident of the Sulzbacher Center, and proud to say that I am almost completely on my own again. I was asked to write a short blog post telling my story, which I agreed to immediately, though the term “short” in my case doesn’t apply to very much. In the interest of keeping it as brief as possible, I feel that I must mention a couple things ahead of time for some background. I was diagnosed with severe depression when I was 8 years old. I have been in and out of therapy as well as on various medications for my entire life. There is one significant event that changed my life forever and my view on the world, and life in general. Learning how to balance that new view has become a struggle like none other I have ever faced.
No one plans to be homeless. I most certainly didn’t.
In June of 2006 I was making around $40,000 a year, living in a 1,300sqft townhome apartment full of all sorts of things that you love to have but never need, driving a nice car, several pets etc…. Then the unimaginable happened: the woman that I had been planning on spending the rest of my life with committed suicide. I can still visualize it to this day, down to the sounds and smells. From that moment, it was a battle against my depression, heartbreak, anger and frustration that I continually lost. I quit my job because the person that I worked for couldn’t understand my need to deal with my emotions and insisted on working me ridiculous hours. “Suck it up and deal with it” was the phrase he used. I found another job, but that didn’t stop me from losing my apartment, then my car. I had to give up the animals that we had been raising together. I alienated friends as I withdrew into myself. I was left struggling against myself to climb out of the hole. Some days I won the battle, more often I lost. The next several years were one cautious step forward, usually followed by two steps back.
A total change of venue became an option after the third vehicle in five years died, causing me to lose my job just 3 weeks after starting it. I packed up a couple boxes and bought a one-way bus ticket on to Jacksonville from Columbus, Ohio. to live with a friend that I had met years before online. About eight months later, in one of the dumber things I’ve done in my life, I moved in with my girlfriend and some of her family when I had to move out of the room I had been occupying. Less than four months later, she and her family ended up being evicted. There was nowhere left for me to go, and her mother dropped me at Trinity Rescue Mission on November 12th, 2012 with a couple bags.
I applied at Sulzbacher the very next day after a conversation I had while waiting in the admission line at Trinity. Every day, through Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, and New Years, I waited on the deck to hear my name called. It took a miserably cold and wet 50+ days before I finally heard my name called on January 7, 2013 and I felt so relieved.
During my time at Sulzbacher I took several classes, such as Stress Management and Art and Music. I began to help out in the computer lab when it was open. When my chore rotated out of the kitchen, I continued to work the same time slot every night in addition to my other chores. I went out to the Sulzbacher Community Garden every Friday morning. Keeping busy kept my mind off the other things.
In July or August 2013, Sulzbacher held a mini employment fair, bringing in some local groups to present new opportunities to the residents. I signed up for a Class D Security Class that was to be offered by First Coast Security. By this time I was taking any opportunity that was presented as getting back to work, in whatever field, was the primary goal, and security is always advertising jobs. I also discovered at the employment fair that I could return to school to obtain an Associate’s Degree in Computer Administration through WorkSource (now CareerSource) “Learn, Return, Earn” Program.
After more than three months of waiting, I finally moved into The Liberty Center on August 27, 2013. It was a small step forward, but it was at least my own space. It allowed me more freedom in what I could do, and was thankfully much quieter, enabling me to sleep as I needed to, not as the dorm lights dictated. I continued to help in the Computer Lab and at the Garden each week.
In late September, I received word that the security training class would start on October 7. Since I had signed up for the class while still a resident, I was permitted to attend and have the fees covered. After completing the class, the graduates were transported to the License Agency on October 15 and we each received our Temporary Licenses, allowing work while awaiting the “hard copy” to be mailed. I began applying to security companies the next day, starting with First Coast Security since they had provided the class.
That Friday, I received a call for an interview from First Coast that afternoon. I went in to the interview and was scheduled for an onsite interview with the site supervisor for Tuesday morning. At that second interview I was offered the job. Two weeks after beginning the security class I had been hired to a full-time position
I started orientation just two days later and I was on the job training before the end of the month. Within weeks I was working overtime, covering for various positions. About ten weeks into the job I was offered another position, jumping from the “fill in” position to being the “shift supervisor” in the Command Center for the busiest shift. It’s challenging, but it pays well and makes the day go by quickly.
After 25 months of unemployment, many people would have given up. I refused to accept my situation and, with the help of Sulzbacher, I have made great strides forward. Overcoming the setbacks has only made me stronger, but there is still much more that I want to accomplish. I have learned to be patient. Sulzbacher gave me what I needed to get by when I needed it, and presented resources that I took advantage of to put myself in a position to get out.
Now, I will be moving into an apartment within the next ninety days, leaving the Liberty Center. I should be returning to school this fall at 40 years old to study Computer and Network Administration with a minor in Database Administration. I have my own vehicle. I have a full-time job. I have health and dental insurance. I am no longer a recipient of Food Stamps. I am also now a volunteer at the Sulzbacher Center, giving back to the place that helped me in the hopes that I can help someone else get back on their feet again.
I am grateful to the Sulzbacher staff for their hard work, and to the many volunteers and donors that give their time and resources to the Center. I volunteer because I believe that you should pay back those that helped you, and while I don’t have the financial resources to donate, I do have skills to offer, and hopefully I will be able to help someone else get back on their feet. It doesn’t take much. Take it from someone who’s been there.