Fresh Start Cleaning and Maintenance

Fresh Start Cleaning and Maintenance is dedicated to providing employment for consumer/survivors of the mental health system. Although primarily established as a janitorial business offering office, commercial and residential services Fresh Start has over the years branched out into providing lawn care, snow removal, de-hoarding, and bed bug pre-spraying preparation services.

Community Background

Employee driven and run, Fresh Start strives to create an equitable and supportive environment in which staff have opportunities to raise self-esteem, learn a variety of skills, and enhance wellness. Our philosophy includes the encouragement of social activities to foster a sense of fellowship amongst all our employees. Fresh Start stands for real work for good pay, and a community to belong to. Fresh Start’s consumer/survivor employees are proud Canadians coming from a wide variety of backgrounds with unique perspectives and histories eager to earn some money to help pay bills, increase purchasing power, develop friendships, and to do something meaningful for themselves and their community.

Development History

Fresh Start began operations in Toronto, Canada in 1989 when a group of people from Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre and Dixon Hall met to discuss starting a business.
These individuals knew all too well the effects of the de-institutionalization of psychiatric patients from local health centres. Many ended up with little income, few family contacts, and no place to go to during the day. Having grown tired of the limited opportunities to engage in meaningful work they began to envision what type of business venture they would pursue.

The first meeting encouraged by strong support from a select group of dedicated staff members from each of these organizations helped solidify the support behind and the viability of various ideas that had sprung forth that day. The first suggestion brought forward was starting up a printing press operation however the reality of up-front costs made this venture unattainable. Within weeks of the initial meeting it was decided that a cleaning and maintenance company was the most feasible business possibility, especially from a start-up cost perspective. These initial founders of Fresh Start were aware of opportunities within the nonprofit government funded community and felt they could sell their cleaning services effectively upon gaining access to start-up funds. These funds were accessed after a deputation on behalf of Fresh Start approached and gained approval by the then City of Toronto’s Economic Committee, and onto the business stage it went.

Important pieces of its first significant steps were to find an office and base of operations (which it did within the supportive confines of 761 Queen Street West) to initiate incorporation, form a Board of Directors comprised of non-administrative workers and community members, and develop strong customer relations with organizations such as the Gerstein Centre, Fred Victor Mission and Archway who were amongst Fresh Start’s original clients. The Board placed emphasis on employee ownership and developing a Mission Statement to reflect the sentiment and values of those who first came together.

Incorporated as Cross-Toronto Community Development Corporation in 1991 and maintaining its operating name of Fresh Start Cleaning and Maintenance, Fresh Start began to receive Ontario Ministry of Health funding as an ongoing investment in the business to address the public’s responsibility for its more vulnerable citizens in a productive and alternative manner as opposed to mainstream services available at that time. The Community Mental Health Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Health made available initially $3,100,000 dollars from the government’s anti-recession program to support new mental health programs that would tap the skills and knowledge of people who had direct experience in the mental health services system, and provide them with support and employment opportunities. Through this channel it funded forty-two projects across Ontario in its first year; eight of those projects were businesses with Fresh Start as one of the first.
Fresh Start was extremely proud of its huge accomplishment of placing 160th amongst 2001’s “Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies” and once again the following year climbing to 140th place amongst the fastest growing companies in Canada as publicized in “Profit 100” Magazine.

A number of people played key roles in the social enterprise start-up process; many of whom were consumer survivors. The first coordinator was a drop-in worker involved in various projects. A community development consultant with experience in creating consumer survivor businesses helped the organization develop contacts and secure funding at Toronto City Hall and with the Ministry. His understanding of the barriers experienced by marginalized people helped create a safe environment where consumer/survivors felt welcomed and appreciated.

According to the current Executive Director, Fresh Start has grown tremendously over the years, building up some money in their resource fund that they recently used to purchase a property that currently houses their administrative offices and member areas. With their previous location sold and due to high rental costs, it was more fiscally prudent to purchase rather than to rent space. Since the purchase, they have invested a lot of money into renovation costs to convert the existing space into office and recreational space. It is more expensive than they originally expected, but owning the place also grows their assets and allows more flexibility in what they can do within the new location. When Fresh Start pays off its property lenders obligations, the money that would have necessarily went to ever increasing and ongoing rent expenses can now be spent on direct services in the community supporting their employee base.

Revenue Model

When Fresh Start started, we targeted social service agencies in the neighborhood because we knew they had a budget and need for cleaning and maintenance. Offering quality services, we also emphasized the fact that by hiring us they would be providing employment opportunities for the people they served. To provide a quote for our first contract, we did some research calling other businesses, asking how much they would charge for cleaning the location. Fresh Start started with three large contracts that brought in about $100,000 a year. Some of these first clients are still our clients to this day. Over time, our customer base has grown from individual nonprofit organizations to include the nonprofit housing sector, some private clients, and we also work closely with the City of Toronto’s Homeless Initiative Fund. Fresh Start now serves the Greater Toronto Area. Our services evolved over time, for example, we added de-hoarding and bed bug spraying preparation for those who didn’t qualify within the City’s strict guidelines for extreme cleaning services. We currently provide cleaning, janitorial, snow removal, lawn care, extreme cleaning, extermination prep, and hoarding services.


Fresh Start started as a small collective group. At the beginning, we were doing it all by ourselves, focusing on doing the work but not keeping records. When the project formalized and the Board of Directors started imposing rules and business structure, we were not ready for it and needed to adapt. Recruiting qualified staff has been an ongoing challenge, particularly in the busy winter season. We reach out to the community and agencies working with target populations, as well as advertise through various outlets. Our mandate requires that we employ as many individuals as possible, so we can only offer part-time positions. After we have invested a lot of energy and training in them, many people we hire later move on because they want a full-time job or they realize they are not yet at the point in their recovery to handle the responsibilities of employment. Losing good employees affects our business as we have contracts to fulfill. Spreading full-time jobs into multiple part-time positions also means we have more employees, stretching our resources to provide more flexibility and support from supervisory, human resources, administrative, and training perspectives. Many of our workers in the field function at efficiency levels that are below tolerable levels for mainstream companies, and also require additional accommodation because of health or personal issues. We provide a supportive environment to accommodate their needs, but this increases our costs of operation. Running a cleaning business is not as easy as it may seem. We have a responsibility to train our employees in health and safety issues. Fresh Start sends people for training, and has also developed a training space with computers and internal manuals to keep all employees safe and well informed.

Lessons Learned

When Fresh Start was developed 25 years ago the reality consumer/survivors faced, as well as the system was different, so our start-up experience may not be replicable in current times. Back then, individuals with mental health issues were labeled as unemployable but our trailblazers showed dedication to create a work environment that was supportive and flexible so employees could earn additional income and contribute to society. A lot of creativity in problem solving came from them. A key success factor was having someone who advocated for us, helped make connections, created a model that appealed to funders, and who saw the benefit in helping consumer/survivors to find meaningful work. It is crucial to design a product/service around a need identified in the target sector. For example, we would advise others to pay attention to what is in the budget of social sector agencies and what they spend money on every year.

Engaging employees plays an integral part in retaining good workers. We show appreciation to our employees for their commitment and hard work, as well as involve them in social activities to promote inclusivity.

Needed Support

In situations where the enterprise is low on cash, it would be good to get help in finding and securing loans.

Recruiting people is hard because we can only offer part-time work. We could grow if we could ensure a steady flow of qualified candidates who if hired were able to sustain employment and were able to provide quality service to fulfill client and company needs without excessive limitation above and beyond reasonable accommodation.

Organization Structure

Fresh Start is comprised of eight board members of which three (3) are employee members of the Corporation who are not administrative employees (Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network funded employees) of the Corporation. The remaining five (5) board members are from the general community and two (2) of which must be consumer/survivors of the mental health system according to the bylaws of the Corporation. This allocation of community volunteers of the board ensures consumer/survivors are in control of the Corporation where overarching decisions such as governance policies and procedures, and fiduciary matters are made monthly and will directly impact on the employees and membership of the Corporation.

Fresh Start is a nonprofit charitable organization where the board primarily governs, and the staff primarily manages. While management may conceive, develop and implement the Corporation’s plan, the board will often monitor the process and provide guidance. Fresh Start’s Board of Directors provides this guidance to management through its Executive Director with clear expectations and does not necessarily become involved in the day-to-day operation of the Corporation. Fresh Start to facilitate the day-to-day operations has developed clear job descriptions, board duties and terms of reference for its committees so that all of these important facets of operating the Corporation’s business run smoothly and work effectively. Through its committees, the board assists management in policy formation and strategic planning. Amongst other primary duties of the board are its fiduciary responsibilities to government, funders, and public entities, goals and objectives reviews, and oversight of the Corporation’s operations. Fresh Start’s Board of Directors does not have power or authority individually – the board’s decision-making ability lies in its collective group structure. At times individual board members may become extensively involved with one particular division within the Corporation and therefore be working directly with staff, but this is usually temporary.


Fresh Start’s funding partners include the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (TCLHIN) providing support in the form of an annual grant which covers the majority of the office’s administrative and operating related costs and from the City of Toronto who directly funds Fresh Start’s Extreme Cleaning Program; a service offering residents of Metropolitan Toronto “West of Yonge Street” cleaning, bed bug spraying preparation and de-hoarding services for those who face imminent eviction from their household based on the lack of cleanliness or fire risk present in their homes because of inaction. As a direct positive consequence of successfully providing the City of Toronto extreme cleaning services for over ten years, Fresh Start has expanded its general services to include de-hoarding and bed bug spraying preparation. Most important is its customers are valued partners without which Fresh Start is not possible.

Impacts & Outcomes

Fresh Start employs approximately one hundred people yearly. Client- or member-centered Consumer/Survivor Initiatives (CSI’s) such as ours facilitates and empowers a smooth transition back into the community for people suffering or who have suffered from a debilitating psychiatric illness. CSI’s play a significant yet undervalued role within Ontario’s Mental Health System as shown in evidence-based studies where large reductions in the utilization of crisis centres, hospitals, and other expensive services occur when consumer/survivors use or become employed with these services. The cornerstone of CSI’s is the peer support approach they offer. On a regular basis Fresh Start’s employees support one another in navigating community and income supports, healthcare, housing and at times legal issues. Building a sense of belonging and creating a community has been a distinct and positive feature of the business. Together the board, administrative staff, and member employees engage in an on-going struggle to balance the “community” and the “economic” aspects of Fresh Start as a community economic initiative and continue this struggle to balance each with great pride.

Vision for the Future

Fresh Start’s goal is to settle financial obligations associated with renovation and building purchase costs. We always look for ways to improve as we continue to support our employees through social activities and employment services. With a larger employee area, part of it will be figuring out how best to utilize this space to create opportunities for recreational play, and personal and professional growth.

3345 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON, Canada, M6P 2A6

(416) 504-4262

Last Year's Revenue was $1.168 million

Fresh Start Cleaning and Maintenance is a registered charity.

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