Calgary linen company offers opportunities to those facing significant obstacles to employment

News source from CTV News

Homeless Calgarians, people in recovery programs and refugees are being offered a hand up in their attempt to improve their situation.

Commongood Linens, a company that provides linen services to approximately 50 restaurants and hotels in Calgary and Canmore, utilizes its revenue to hire people who face barriers to securing conventional employment.

“We really work to give those people a shot,” said Commongood Linens founder David Cree. “Giving them an opportunity to come to work, to really work out the stuff that they’ve learned, work out the stuff they’ve been working through with the agency for the last year or whatever and build a reference.”

“Maybe a year from now we’re helping transition them off to another job. We don’t expect them to work her forever.”

Commongood Linens has hired employees through several agencies including the Drop-In Centre, Fresh Start Recovery, The Alex and the Mustard Seed. A number of the workers were without proper identification, a mailing address, a bank account, internet access or access to a phone, barriers that would likely reduce the likelihood of being hired for other positions.

“We have a very open enrollment policy,” explained Cree. “If you don’t have ID, you have no bank account, we don’t care. If you come and work, we’ll pay you cash. We pay cash every day for the first couple of weeks often for a new hire and, at the same time, we’ll set them up, we have a good partnership with ATB, and we’ll ask ATB to get them a basic bank account with basic banking services.”

Gary Gattie has been working for Commongood Linens for about two months as a delivery driver for the Canmore route. He says he struggled to find work after spending seven months in recovery for a drug addiction.

“There’s a big stigma with recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and one of the biggest things is, of course, reliability and that’s something that I’ve had to work on myself,” said Gattie. “(Dave’s) given me a chance.”

Gattie, an engineer by trade, says his new job means the world to him. “It gives me a sense of self-worth again, it builds up my self-esteem and makes me into the man that I’ve always wanted to be.”

Commongood Linens has grown from its humble beginnings in the basement of the Calgary Drop-In Centre and now has its own warehouse and a growing customer base.

“We talked to restaurants and found that restaurants hated their linen services and were really, really open to having us do their linen for them,” said Cree. “We’ve picked up tons and tons of restaurants and hotels since then.”

“They love the model. They love that they’re supporting community. We treat them as partners, not as customers.”

Alexander Kulakov of the Mustard Seed says the agency offers valuable services to its clients but obstacles to employment do remain.

“We’re providing clothing for them, we’re providing work gear for them, we’re providing training for them,” said Kulakov. “We are working with them in order to find and maintain sustainable employment. That’s the main goal for us.”

According to Kulakov, Commongood Linen is helping bridge the gap to employment for some of the shelter’s clients. “Common Good is working not only with the Mustard Seed but with so many companies in the community which is absolutely amazing. They are able to hire so many people. The fact that they have this broad outreach spectrum is really good for us.”

The idea for Commongood Linens came to Cree nearly a decade ago after he experienced a day of homelessness as part of the curriculum for a university course. “The way people treated me was shocking.”

Employees are hired at Commongood Linens on a temporary casual basis. Once they’ve proven their commitment to the job and exhibited a positive attitude during a three month probation period, their hours are increased to fulltime and their pay is increased to a living wage of $18 an hour.

“People really appreciate not only that they’re having a chance to get a job but it’s at a place that they actually love coming to everyday and they feel like they’re building a family here and a community around them of coworkers,” said Cree. “We just hire people and treat them normally and expect them to work and expect them to treat each other with dignity. It just works.”

“It’s pretty powerful. We’ve had people in tears thanking us for believing in them and letting them come to work.”

Cree says one of the most rewarding aspects of the business is sharing in the celebration with the staff when an employee secures a home of their own.

With files from CTV’s Jaclyn Brown

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