550 Queen Street East
Canada M5A 1V2
Fresh Start and Mainstay Housing
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.