Gonzalez had served as a community coordinator at the New York City Department of Sanitation's recycling bureau. But despite 19 years of service, he was only a "provisional" city employee, not a titled civil service worker, so when the city started cutting its budget, he was hit by the earliest wave of layoffs.
"When the recession and the budget cuts kicked in, it didn't matter how many years you had in the service, if you didn't have a title and were a provisional worker like myself, you were the first one to be let go," Gonzalez said last December, when DailyFinance first profiled him in our series, The New Homeless.
Last month, after three years of searching for a new job, Gonzalez was hired by the Davidson Community Center, a nonprofit community outreach organization in the South Bronx.
From Hard Worker to Recession Victim to New Hope
Gonzalez's three-year odyssey from gainful employment to a homeless shelter and back isn't unique. Since the beginning of the recession, some 15 million Americans have lost their jobs. Millions, like Gonzalez, have seen their life savings wiped out.
Many of the newly unemployed have become newly homeless. Earlier this year, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that 1.5 million people would be made homeless over the next two years as a result of the recession. Today, some 50,000 New Yorkers have no place to live, stretching the city's shelters and homeless outreach organizations to new limits.
Founded in 1965, Davidson's mission is to "provide services to underprivileged children, youth, adults and seniors of the South Bronx through education, training, empowerment, and advocacy," according to the center's website. The South Bronx is one of the poorest collections of neighborhoods in the United States.
"It feels very good to be back working after three years," Gonzalez said this week. "What I like is that I'm helping the community."
The Mission "Really Opened My Eyes"
Gonzalez now serves as a merchant liaison for the nascent Burnside Avenue commercial district, a key project for the Davidson Center. The goal is to work with local businesses and the city to improve the local economy of Burnside Avenue and the surrounding area. For now, the job is part-time, but it was enough to get him back up on his feet. If he performs well, he's been told, he'll be brought on full time.
"Living and working at the Bowery Mission really opened up my eyes to what life in the community is really like," Gonzalez said. "It showed me how much we take for granted. I thought I had it bad, but every day, people come into the shelter just looking for food. It really changed my way of thinking."
Gonzalez resolved to try to give back to the community. In August, he was walking with his sister, with whom he now shares an apartment one block from the Davidson Center, when he decided to poke his head in. On a bulletin board, he spied a job opening for a community liaison and quickly applied. A week later, the center's executive director, Angel Cabellero, called and asked him to come in for an interview.
The interview went well, and before Gonzalez knew it, he was speaking to Aida Martinez, the center's chairwoman. He was hired!
In his new job, Gonzalez gives technical support to various business owners in the area. The Davidson Center is working to create a new business development agency to help boost the neighborhood, and Gonzalez works directly with the local merchants, addressing their needs.
"The business owners know they can reach me one-on-one," Gonzalez said as the phone rang in the background. "Now, excuse me, but I have to get back to work."