While sitting in the café lobby of a brand new tech building in North San Jose, I signed my name on the last piece of paper of an employee packet for my new job as a dishwasher at a national catering company. It felt good to be able to shake the bosses hand after I filled out the forms, or even have a boss to shake hands once again. I feel reborn.

Since March of 2009 I have been lead on a wild goose chase for the perfect full-time job. I have traveled across the state, even went outside of the state pursuing odd jobs of varying tasks — I’ve worked in event set-up, was a security guard, and even a traveling soap salesman. After a year, I was still lost and confused, and ultimately frustrated with the economy, employers and myself.

It wasn’t easy getting this job. I had been staying on the streets, had to get cleaned up at a public restroom downtown, and had to travel three hours using my last five dollars, just hoping to land it. But I got it.

After leaving the building of my future livelihood, on the light-rail back to San Jose from Milpitas, I couldn’t help but to look back and take a glance in disbelief. I finally got another opportunity to have full-time employment, and even have medical and dental benefits, something very few people my age (at 23-years-old) have through their work. Having a job means I can really live again. When I say live, I mean actually live a decent life of renting my own pad again, buy some new clothes, pay for a decent meal, and finally being able to enjoy things without having to be dependent or having to wait on someone to help me with a handout.

What the high unemployment statistics don’t show, is the direct hit mentally, even nervous breakdowns, that not having a job can have on a person. Unemployment can steal all of the faith you had, right from inside of you.

After a few days into the new job I also made a new friend at work. We got along, and he was nice enough too even let me stay at his house with his family. While staying there, I noticed a jump in lifestyles. What I have thought of privileges for the past few years, is pretty much normal day to day life for others. I was so used to sleeping on the street, that even in the apartment I slept with all my clothes and shoes on. It took a while to know that I can actually fully sleep, and not have to worry if anyone was trying to harm me or take any of my belongings, that I could really just rest. Unemployment becomes psychological because it forces you to create a completely different lifestyle of what you once had, and you can get used to that lifestyle.

I noticed what I had gotten used to as someone without income when I got my first check. We went shopping and I felt I had splurged a little bit on myself – buying some new clothes. It had been so long, I didn’t know any of my sizes, and was scared to put them on, because I didn’t want to get them dirty. I was terrified of putting it on because I wasn’t sure of how long it would be until I would receive some new clothes. It was a habit from the streets, so it took a while for it to sink in that I was working full-time, making decent money and I could buy some more clothes and afford to wash them.

I’ve been working at my new job for a few months now and am getting used to the stable living. The work may be tedious manual labor, but every two weeks I look at my paycheck and smile. After a hard day’s work I get to go home to take a shower, watch tv, or just chill.

With this new job, I feel as though this is the start of a new foundation for my life with a grand opening. It’s like watching a building being built. My foundation has been built on an empty lot with bad piping and bad soil, with sewer water running everywhere. But with every new layer of foundation laid-down comes a purification from the new piping and new soil.

My first level of my construction has already started with my housing situation becoming stabilized and starting a bank account. Even though I have only 25 bones in my checking account, it sure feels good to have 25 bucks than nothing at all.

I still have friends that are still lost in the mix of unemployment, doubting their own capabilities of getting back into the workforce, school, or society for that matter. The feeling of rejection can haunt anyone, and scare them away from an opportunity that could be theirs if they reach out for it. Those feelings really just interfere with the greatness that we all know deep down inside that we can accomplish.

Alex Gutierrez is a writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug. This article was previously published at SJBeez, http://sjbeez.org.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.