Next Doors: Working Toward a Solution

Glendale Works is helping homeless individuals restart their lives

            It’s no secret that homelessness is a critical problem right now. You can see it as you go around the Valley. The homeless population is increasing, and so is the enormity of the task of addressing the issue.

            Just one data point — in 2014, only 18 percent of homeless people in the Valley were forced to live unsheltered and outside. In 2019, the number was up to 48 percent.

            “Those people tend to be the hardest to serve, and their issues are most acute,” said Nathan Smith, director of community engagement with Phoenix Rescue Mission. “We need more intensive services to meet them where they are at and find some sustainable solutions.”

            Thankfully, there are many great nonprofit organizations and community leaders working to address homelessness. You could write a book about all of the work being done in cities like Phoenix. It’s a big, complicated, expensive problem that involves helping people with significant challenges find a path back into society. It could not be harder work, and we’re fortunate that so many in our community are doing it, and doing it well.

            I’m here this month to spotlight just one of those efforts. It’s a new program taking place in Glendale that’s moving the needle with the homeless population while providing a vital public service and changing people’s lives in the process.

            It’s called Glendale Works, and it’s more than just a homelessness program — it’s a workforce development program that provides homeless individuals day-work cleaning city property.

            “The mayor of Glendale was doing some research on his own and coming across different models. At the same time, we at Phoenix Rescue Mission caught wind of a TED Talk the mayor of Albuquerque gave about an initiative there called A Better Way,” Smith said. “We showed it to my boss, and he and the mayor started having conversations because we were looking at the same problem from different angles.”

            Glendale selected Phoenix Rescue Mission — a faith-based organization that provides a broad spectrum of services to homeless individuals and families as well as those suffering from hunger, trauma or addiction — as a partner for the program.

            Phoenix Rescue Mission engages potential participants to perform the work, which includes five-hour shifts for a daily cash rate of $55. The participants receive a meal after their shift as well as transportation to and from the worksite. They can also connect with a Phoenix Rescue Mission case manager, who will help them find behavioral health services, job training, health care, housing opportunities and other resources.

            The results have been immediate and noteworthy. More than 250 homeless individuals engaged in the program the first year, with a significant number finding housing as a result of the money they earned through Glendale Works. The participants helped augment efforts to clean and maintain Glendale parks, and the program resulted in less panhandling and other blight.

            “This program is getting a lot of people straight from the streets into permanent housing,” Smith said. “People have also used the funds they have earned to pay down fines that prohibited them from getting driver’s licenses, or other issues that have stopped them from getting full-time employment.”

            There’s a significant human element to the program as well, and lives that have changed as a result.

            “We had a man who unfortunately lost one of his best friends on the street,” Smith said. “He was drinking heavily and doing damage to himself with drugs and alcohol, and he had to go into the hospital for a week. During that time, his best friend died of an overdose.

            “When he got out of the hospital, he realized that he had lost his friend and was not there for him when he was in need. So he decided he was going to stay clean. He and his daughter agreed that if he got clean, he could move back in and look for a more stable job. He ended up finding a full-time job and a permanent place to live because of the program. He used this and the inspiration from losing his friend, and the funds helped him to restart his life,” Smith said.

            Glendale Works has been a win-win-win. The city of Glendale gets cleaner parks, the individuals in the program get a chance at a new start, and the overall homeless population starts to decline.

            “The undeniable benefit is that the parks look nicer, and I think the city would be the first to tell you that,” Smith said. “We’re significantly increasing the work that the Parks Department can do at a site on a given day. The passersby are thankful, and people are using the program as an opportunity to get off the streets.”

            Smith said that Phoenix Rescue Mission hopes other communities will duplicate the program, either with the organization’s help or with other nonprofits that work in homelessness. And he anticipates that Glendale Works will expand within the city’s boundaries as well.

            “It’s a program that was started to get people off the streets, but it’s truly an innovation in that space,” Smith said. “It’s a homelessness program with an innovative model and an excellent way to help people that also has other tangible benefits.”

            To learn more, go to

About Tom Evans

Tom Evans is Contributing Editor of Frontdoors Media and a partner at ON Advertising in Phoenix.
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