Here’s an idea that I hope goes viral.
I recently read an article about Commongood Linens. On the surface, it’s a business that cleans restaurant linens, but its real work is saving lives.
I spoke with CEO and co-owner Dave Cree to understand why he built his business around hiring homeless people and others who have barriers to entering the job market.
He said the idea came out of some social justice training he received 10 years ago as part of his church community. One of the tasks he was assigned in the course was to beg for $15 worth of spare change on the streets of Edmonton to understand what it was like to be homeless. It sounds like it was awful. He said he couldn’t repeat on the air what many people said to him that day. He met his target of $15, but he took with him a mission to do something to help.
That idea materialized two years ago when he talked to restaurateurs who weren’t very happy with their linen cleaning service. He realized he could build a viable business around cleaning linens, but also provide an opportunity to serve a segment of the population that is notoriously hard to hire. He partnered with the Drop-In Centre and got started with one of his first employees, Darryl.
Darryl exemplifies why it is so difficult for homeless people to get a leg up. Most companies won’t hire you if you don’t have a permanent address, or a driver’s licence, or a bank account, or a break in your employment record. Darryl had 25 different certificates, and had applied for hundreds of jobs, but couldn’t get his foot in the door.
Now, after two years of working for Commongood, he’s making $18 an hour working full-time and has moved out of the shelter. There are three others who have also been able to move out of the shelter with the income they earn at Commongood.
LISTEN: Danielle Smith speaks with Dave Cree, CEO and Co-Owner of Commongood Linens.
I asked Dave what his employees think about what he has done for them. What do they tell him? He said that is the best part of his job.
“The most common thing is to speak about dignity,” he said. “About just the feeling of being able to come to work in the morning, put your lunchbox away, and to start working with a team of people has been an incredibly rewarding and, I think, a boost to mental health for every one of our people. Because the dignity comes back, the hope comes back, that they can build something with their life again, and the effect is quite incredible.”
There are an estimated 3,000 homeless in Calgary in any given year. The majority of them are men. Mental illness, addiction, job loss, relationship breakdown and trauma are common reasons why they find themselves on the street. For those who are desperate to find a pathway back to a normal life, there are very few options.
Dave has expanded Commongood Linens to the point he can employ 14 people. He says he wants to expand his business model across the country. I wish him every success and hope he inspires others to do the same.