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 non-profit 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 was to find an office and base of operations as 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.