CALGARY—Sometimes, all you really need is someone to give you a chance.

That’s the philosophy behind Commongood Linens, a company that hires people who are homeless, in recovery programs or refugees that may face barriers in securing employment.

Dave Cree (left) and Gary Gattie in the Commongood Linen warehouse. The company provides its services to around 50 restaurants and hotels in Calgary and Canmore.  (Mary Getaneh / StarMetro)

“They are showing their own personal motivations to get themselves out of homelessness, but no one is giving them the opportunity,” said Dave Cree, founder of Commongood. “That’s where we really find our sweet spot and say ‘OK, we can see you’re doing all this work, let’s give you a shot now.’”

Gary Gattie has been working for Commongood Linens for two months. Gattie is an engineer, but has struggled with a drug addiction for 20 years, which cost him his job.

He started volunteering at the shelter he was staying at, which he said helped him with his self-esteem. Gattie has been in recovery for seven months, but was struggling to find work. He said his new job has given him “a brand new life.”

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“Someone like Dave giving me a helping hand, he knew I was in recovery and he trusted me and gave me a chance,” Gattie said. “A lot of times all we need is a chance.” The job, he said, “gives me gratitude, it gives me hope for myself and faith in other people.”

Since he started the business, Cree said some of his employees have been able to leave shelters and move into homes. He started the business two years ago, but it’s something that’s been rolling around in the back of his head for a decade. He experienced a day of homelessness, where he was supposed to beg for money, as part of a social justice course.

“The moment I got on the street I immediately noticed how nobody wanted to talk to me,” Cree said. “People would avoid me like the plague.”

If people did talk to him, it was either a rude comment or asking if he wanted to buy drugs. “It really shocked me the way we, as Canadians, treat someone who is down and out on the street.”

In the last two years, his business has grown and now provides service to around 50 restaurants and hotels in Calgary and Canmore. They moved from the basement of the Drop-In Centre and now own a warehouse.

Commongood Linens hires employees through several agencies in the city: the Drop-In Centre, Fresh Start Recovery, The Alex and the Mustard Seed.

Employees are hired on a casual basis. After a three month probation period, where they prove commitment to their job and show a positive attitude, they gain full-time hours and a living wage of $18 an hour.

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Cree said the enrolment policy is very open. If someone doesn’t have an ID or bank account, he’ll pay them in cash. At the same time, they’ll work to get some kind of identification and a bank account started for them. It can be a challenging way to run a business, but making sure the environment is positive is key.

“It is difficult. We experience high turnover. We have to watch the kind of environment that we create for our employees,” Cree said. “It has to be supportive, it has to allow people to have dignity. We don’t talk down to people … the culture is so important here.”

Cree said although it can be a challenging business model, it’s something we may be seeing more of.

“We’re a much more conscious consumer and that’s a window for businesses like ours to really thrive,” Cree said. “I think our society is somewhat starting to reject the idea that a business should just be profit only and not concern themselves in our planet or how we treat people.”

Mary Getaneh is a Calgary-based reporter covering arts, culture and diversity. Follow her on Twitter: @marygetaneh

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