Jim Ramsey went back to school when he was 30, hoping to find his calling and financial stability.
He succeeded for about 10 years after he graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a master's degree in guidance and counseling in 1996.
But employment problems started about five years ago, he said. The job market for mental health professionals started suffering until he eventually became a casualty.
He lost his job as a crisis therapist at Chattanooga's Fortwood Center in 2003. He landed a job as a social worker for Home Health Care of East Tennessee, which lasted until he was let go in 2005.
He worked as an intake clinician for Georgia HOPE (Healthy Opportunities for Personal Enhancement), but that lasted only six months.
Since then, Ramsey has worked several jobs, taking a pay cut from the $16 an hour he was making in his field to about $9 an hour in phone-based customer service and as an adjunct professor at the Virginia College School of Business and Health.
But since March 2009, when he taught his last classes at the school, he hasn't been able to get back on his feet. His last unemployment check arrived on Dec. 11, leaving him with no source of income.
"It's been extremely difficult," said Ramsey, 49, who also is a veteran. "It's been practically four years since I had a full-time, salaried position."
He lost his car and has been on the verge of homelessness, every week asking himself 'What's next, what's the plan?'
"I've maintained my hope and faith that things would turn around," he said at the Tennessee Career Center in Eastgate Town Center, where he walks three miles almost every day in search of employment.
"I'm not going to quit," he said.
In January, he goes back to UTC to study school psychology.
And his determination has paid off. After looking for help with several local organizations, the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults pledged $266 to cover two weeks at the extended stay motel where he's staying -- it didn't require a deposit and was the only place he could afford with his unemployment benefits, he said.
The money, he said, was vital in helping him make it through until he can get financial aid through UTC.
"[The money] made the difference between me being on the street and being able to get by until January," he said. "I can't thank them enough."
Contact staff writer Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@times freepress.com or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_ Trevizo.