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Laundry Unfolds Life’s Skills
Gateway Centre has been providing the homeless with a home and a friend. Now they also provide a job. They believe it’s their mission to help people find work and meaning.

A new program initiated by The Salvation Army Gateway Centre in Toronto is helping men clean up their lives – and their linens.

Homeless centre provides work at linen facility. Inset (l-r): Dion Oxford and Monte Solberg, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

“The concept arose out of a concern that we were not helping our guys find meaningful work for meaningful pay,” says Dion Oxford, director and founder of Gateway, a shelter and drop-in centre for adults in the downtown core of Toronto.

The Salvation Army operates five shelters in the Toronto area, including Gateway. Every year the shelters spend $325,000 on laundry, a fact Oxford uncovered in 2001. He began to wonder why Gateway couldn’t open its own industrial laundry business, hiring men in the shelter to run it.

“I believe all people need a home, a job and a friend,” says Oxford. “We at Gateway have been good at providing a home and a friend but not the job part. We see it as part of our Christian mission to help folks find work so they can find meaning.”

After seven years of raising awareness and financial support, Oxford’s vision became reality when the new Gateway linen facility opened in February 2008.

“Seeing the facility in operation was like looking at the Promised Land for me – a dream come true,” says 38-yearold Oxford.

The program hires four participants at a time for six-month periods and includes training in laundry, life skills and financial literacy as well as one-on-one job coaching. Graduates are offered full-time unionized jobs at a local linen company, K-Bro Linen.

Since opening, the facility has assumed linen contracts for three Salvation Army shelters as well as a funeral home.

Three participants have graduated. Oxford is quick to admit they’ve had their share of challenges, particularly with staffing. “The men are in captivity to the streets and have found some comfort there in the familiarity of it all. When we offer them a way out, they become scared and turn back to their captivity where they have no hopes that can be dashed.”

Nevertheless, with time and patience, Gateway is proving it not only wants to provide shelter but also a way of bearing life’s heavy loads – laundry included.

“All the headaches and heartaches were worth it – I’d do it all over again,” says Oxford. “If the gospel is good news, then a job for someone who is unemployed is good news indeed.”

Emily Wierenga is an author based in Blyth, Ontario. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.

Originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2009.




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