Opportunty Live Here: Mainstay Housing

Head Office
550 Queen Street East
Suite 150
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5A 1V2

Tel: 416.703.9266
Fax: 416.703.9265
TTY: 416.703.9267


Charity Number:
119258440 RR0001

Fresh Start and Mainstay Housing

photo of RodFresh Start is a cleaning business that was started to provide employment for people living with mental illness. It runs just like any other business except that there is much greater flexibility about time off. The employees can work as many or as few hours as they like with the security that their job will still be there. All the people who work for the organization, including the management, are consumer-survivors. They are paid decent wages and a strong sense of community is fostered. Mainstay Housing is the biggest client of Fresh Start. Rod Albrecht , executive director of Fresh Start, describes the relationship:

We provide a fill in service for their staff. They have people who do cleaning and we make up when their folks get really busy. If there is something like an emergency flood, we'll go in and clean up. When it comes to doing things like spring cleanings, carpet cleanings, big floor sections, we'll go in and do it because we have the equipment and the expertise.

There is often a mistaken belief that people living with mental illness can't or won't work. Rod comments on that when he says,

Other people may say, yeah, it's great to go back to work, but then they really closely watch you for fear your head will explode. A lot of professionals will tell you that it's a really bad idea to work because you're going to have a major meltdown. Most of the Fresh Start employees will tell you that they decided to go back to work knowing that they might have a major meltdown, but they'd rather give it a try and lose than not give it a try and never know if they were going to win. And mostly, they win.

Rod talks about the mutual benefits of the partnership for both Fresh Start and Mainstay:

We want to go out and work for people who will respect us and our work. We try to make sure our contracts with clients are conducive to developing that kind of relationship. Then, not only are you getting support and respect from your peers, but you're also getting support and respect from a client. In our partnership with Mainstay, which is probably the most interactive relationship we have, we have the respect of the people who live in the buildings, because they see us working. They see the different kinds of people who are working and they start to think, "Maybe I can do that kind of work." Imitation is the highest form of flattery. There are people who will come up to you and say, "We're really glad you're here because you're doing a good job". We have a number of people who live in Mainstay units who came to work for us, a lot of it based on what they saw our folks doing.

Here Rod talks about the relationship between having a home and having a job:

A job always means that one way or the other, you're going to need a house. You are going to need a roof over your head. You can't be healthy and homeless. They just don't go together. You see a lot of folks who are homeless and you see what they look like and their state of mind and the suffering in their eyes. And then you see them when they get a place. If you can get a home and a job at the same time, the job will provide you with friends which will make you more confident when you get home which means you'll make friends with the people that you live with too. If you have a home and you pay attention and it's a place that you like, you're in a better frame of mind to go out and find work.