Victor Quintero and Melissa Cooper

Victor Quintero and Melissa Cooper have been living in their car with their dog, Blue, for the past four years. Through the Glendale Works program, they have earned enough to stay in hotels a few nights per week.

At last January’s Point-in-Time Homeless Count, an annual street and shelter count in Maricopa County, volunteers counted 194 unsheltered people in Glendale — nearly five times the 44 unsheltered people counted in 2016.

The 2020 count will take place Tuesday, Jan. 28. 

A Glendale couple who have been living in a car with their dog may not be counted this year, thanks to a program that has helped them get back to work.

Victor Quintero and Melissa Cooper have been homeless for roughly four years, living on as little as $5 a day. Recently when they came in contact with Glendale Works, a nonprofit organization through Phoenix Rescue Mission providing day labor for people in need. 

“They (Glendale Works) were just a blessing,” Quintero said. “There were days we didn’t find enough scrap metal to even have gas to move and they helped us with daily pay, they helped us make sure we were able to eat.”

Glendale Works is an integrated workforce development program aimed at reducing homelessness in Glendale by providing qualified individuals with work. It was developed by Phoenix Rescue Mission with help from the city and launched Nov. 2018. 

During its first year, Glendale Works interacted with more than 250 panhandlers and homeless individuals with its services, said Nathan Smith, Phoenix Rescue Mission director of community engagement. It was able to place over 40 people in a solution, such as a recovery program or permanent housing.

One was Quintero.

Quintero, 32, was born in Mexico but moved to the U.S. when he was 3 and to the Valley when he was 16. He attended Alhambra High School in Phoenix for two years.

Because he was born in Mexico, Quintero needs a work permit which must be renewed every two years. 

Roughly five years ago, Quintero was working at a retirement community in Scottsdale when he lost his work permit because he couldn’t afford its renewal.

“When I lost my work permit, everything went downhill,” Quintero said. “She (Cooper) has health issues, so she can’t work, and we became homeless after I lost my work permit.”

Quintero said Cooper, 34, his fiancée, has struggled with heart attacks since she was 24 and has been battling breast cancer for seven years. With nowhere to go and not enough money to afford their own place, they took to the streets. 

Quintero said he would do odd jobs here and there to make enough cash and feed his dog who is the top priority of the family. 

“We would pick up scrap metal cans, bottles and any odd jobs I could do,” Quintero said. “We would pick up stuff online and resell it.”

He said there were many days of stress and not knowing where their next meal would come from, but they would try to enjoy themselves as much as possible. 

“We would go to the park and play with our puppy,” Quintero said. “Whenever we were lucky enough to get enough money, we’d go to Dave and Buster’s and play a few games.”

One of the days Cooper and Quintero were at the park, they met a couple who told them about Glendale Works. Since then, their life has been improving and they’re looking to get their own place within the next month. 

Glendale Works helped Quintero pay $500 for his work permit, find him work and even got him shoes for his first day of work. 

“If it wasn’t for Glendale works, there is no way we would have come up with the $500 for my work permit,” Quintero said. “We’re slowly but surely getting back to where we need to be.”

Quintero now works full-time in a maintenance position at a company in Phoenix named Bella Fresh. He just earned a raise. 

Smith said Glendale Works finds jobs for people in need through the City’s Parks and Recreation Department who gives them a list of possible jobs. People who go through the program often work as part of a cleanup crew for the contractors the city hires. 

They normally get paid $60 per day, which is minimum wage, are given lunch and are picked up from certain locations. 

“Every day, we pick up people at First United Methodist Church right in the heart of downtown Glendale,” Smith said. “We haven’t even had to go out any real recruiting. We have a waiting list almost every day.”

Phoenix Rescue Mission travels out to the community and hands out cards on best ways to contact them for day labor, Smith said. 

Smith said the mission has to leave people behind as it is not able to take everyone with it, however, they do try to provide labor to as many as possible.

But Glendale Works strives for more than just providing day labor. Smith said the spirit of the program lies in engaging with people who are homeless and providing them with tools to help them get themselves out of their situation and into a more stable place. 

Smith said he really finds it powerful seeing the reactions of people Glendale Works can help. 

“The reactions are really neat because a lot of people talk about how they’ll have a renewed sense of dignity from just having the opportunity to do this work, how they didn’t even know they could work like this before and maybe it’s time for them to seek more stable employment,” Smith said. 

Although Quintero is looking at greener pastures, he still has challenges to overcome. He said he is struggling to find a place where he can afford the initial deposit which can be as high as $1,500, in addition to the rent. 

He is able to afford a room at a hotel for a few nights but then he’s back to living in his car. 

“We want people to know things are hard but to stay positive and keep moving and there are good people out there,” Quintero said. 

For more information on Glendale Works, visit phoenixrescuemission.org or call 602-346-3384.