At a time when New York City is facing dramatically increased demand for homeless shelters, one of its oldest missions is quietly beginning a different kind of program, one that takes a more long-term, holistic view of meeting needs. The program is a small business called Fresh Start Cleaning, launched as a social enterprise of the Bowery Mission.

“Fresh Start is kind of our workforce development,” Coordinator Laura Herrod said. Fully bonded and insured, the roughly year-old business provides on-the-job cleaning experience for graduates of the Bowery Mission’s six-month residential program.

Herrod said the Bowery’s goal is to help program graduates break the cycle of life on the streets, “but if they can’t find a job, they don’t have a chance.” Those who come through the residential program often face multiple obstacles to finding employment: erratic work history, limited education, and sometimes criminal records. By hiring its graduates to work for Fresh Start Cleaning, Herrod said the mission can “really vouch for them.”

Bowery staff carefully chose the industry in which to employ graduates. “All you need is a mop and a rag and you can clean something,” Herrod said. “Anyone can professionally clean, and you can make a living wage off of it.”

In order to work at Fresh Start, graduates of the residential program must interview for open positions. The entire process, from interview to cleaning, is designed to “develop [workers] as good employees, as well as professional cleaners,” she said.

Building on the career-center training that’s part of the Bowery’s residential program, Fresh Start applicants must wear business attire to the interview and bring a resume in hand. “We communicate very clearly about what our expectations are,” Herrod said.

Once hired, workers go through a basic, three-hour cleaning training, plus a four-hour session in deep cleaning at the Bowery’s offices. After the training, they begin the minimum 100 hours of cleaning Fresh Start requires employees to complete before they can look for jobs elsewhere.

Although Fresh Start clients are informed upfront about the nature of the company’s work force, cleaners are accompanied on all assignments by Fresh Start’s field leader Debra Macklin, a long-time Bowery employee and graduate of the residential program herself. “We send them with someone who has an awesome track record,” Herrod said.

Macklin is there both to reassure clients and to provide supervision and feedback on the quality of work, time management, and attention to details like which surfaces to clean with which products. Because many clients are working moms with young kids, Herrod said they try to use “less-harsh,” organic cleaning products as much as possible.

Once workers have developed “the maturity of a professional worker,” Fresh Start’s goal is to match them with jobs at other businesses. The company is still developing such ties but hopes to “leverage relationships” with businessmen in the city, especially cleaning company owners who know and have worked with the Bowery Mission.

You can learn more about Fresh Start, including how to book a cleaning, at

Comments are closed.