Siloam Mission launches commercial laundry social enterprise project

With the push of the start button on a washing machine, Siloam Mission launched its first social enterprise project on Wednesday.

New facility provides jobs, training for people experiencing homelessness

The new laundry facility was officially launched at a news conference with Siloam Mission CEO Jim Bell and Winnipeg Foundation CEO Rick Frost on Wednesday. (CBC)

With the push of the start button on a washing machine, Siloam Mission officially launched its first social enterprise project on Wednesday.

Director of programs Laiza Pacheco said the charitable organization's new commercial laundry service, which is staffed by people experiencing homelessness, has started by taking on the laundry needs of Siloam Mission's emergency shelter.

It will start looking for external clients to provide more commercial laundry work and likely hire more people in the new year.

The laundry service completed its first job in October, and hired two full-time term and several casual employees to wash, fold and deliver clean linens back to the shelter, said Charles Enns, who manages Siloam Mission's employment program.

He said it's already having an impact on the people who frequent the shelter.

When a supervisor asked one of the new employees how the job was going two months in, the employee — who has struggled with addiction issues for years, and had been living in Siloam Mission's shelter for six months — was overcome with emotion, Enns said.

"Tears filled his eyes, and he responded, 'I have not been this happy in the last 15 years of my life,'" Enns said.

The new facility will give employees a way to make some money and get workplace training, in hopes of providing them with enough support to find other employment in the workforce.

'Sense of dignity'

Enns called the new laundromat a "monumental step," and said he's excited to see how many more people it can help.

"It has been a privilege to be on the ground seeing the transformative opportunities this laundry is already providing, and the potential it has to provide to others," he said.

"By providing the wrap-around supports to our laundry participant employees, we give them the best chance we can to succeed in their employment goals and their life goals."

Siloam Mission CEO Jim Bell said while people need supports and resources specific to their experiences, finding meaningful employment is often a big part of the solution.

"There is no doubt that for many, providing them with the opportunity to gain more purpose in life by having a job helps restore that sense of dignity," said Bell.

The commercial laundry facility plans to seek new contracts and hire more staff in early 2020. (CBC)

Siloam Mission announced the laundromat project earlier this year, and received a $200,000 investment from the Winnipeg Foundation to get things started.

Winnipeg Foundation CEO Rick Frost said the grant for the commercial laundry project is different than most, because the foundation plans to check in to see whether the social enterprise laundromat succeeds financially.

"It's been an interesting process. We certainly have been thrilled to be part of it. I am expecting we're going to learn a lot from it," said Frost. 

"There's a few of these other social enterprises that we've already invested in, and I'm sure there will be a few more as we try to build our own knowledge."


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