The old rectory that En Marge 12-17 occupies is imposing. Ste-Brigide-de-Kildare Church, right beside it, looks like the poor, or at least neglected, relation in comparison. However, that should change over the coming year because, after ten years of effort, a group of community organizations has managed to bring together the funding needed for renovating the spaces that will partly be used for youth activities.
En Marge 12-17 is an open door on the street that leads elsewhere than the street.
A safety net for young people who are thinking about things, in search of themselves.
More than just a roof and a meal, En Marge is an alternative to running away and the street, as indicated on the home page of their website.
Over and above its mission, the organization is committed to being part of and contributing to the neighbourhood’s social fabric (it’s at the south-east edge of gay village) and to working with young people by increasing partnerships and communication with local players.
In the front area, in the Ste-Brigide Cultural and Community Centre, which has taken responsibility for the church renovation plan and which En Marge is member of. Ultimately, when the work is complete, 60% of the church will be occupied by Le Cube (an international theatre research and creation centre for children and youth) intended for training, creation and rehearsals. The companies Le Clou and Le Carrousel, which are the facilitators of this component, are aiming to attract local and international theatre groups.
The plan is that the church’s nave, which is nearly 40% of the space, will host the activities of Cirque Hors-Piste, Les Chemins du Soleil (recreation for 6-18 years olds to prevent delinquency) and those of the Groupe de recherche et de formation sur la pauvreté au Québec, the common rooms and the co-working spaces. The work is planned to start in late 2018. The site will become an incubator of new ideas, and the responsiveness allowed and generated by the group will enhance the actions and interventions with clients.
In the meantime, En Marge 12-17 is closely monitoring the project’s development and implementation process and is continuing its own activities. Marie-Noëlle L’Espérance has been acting as director of En Marge for about a year. When she started in the position, she wanted to better understand the processes and review the practices with the aim of optimizing them. Team meetings are held frequently and are theme-based for the purpose of making the work go more smoothly. That approach fosters the dynamics by making the most of each one’s perspective on the issues encountered and by increasing the workers’ involvement in the organization’s more specific projects. Representations on external committees are divided up so that each of them has a better idea of the environment that the organization operates in.
With assistance from a BoD committee, they reviewed the employees’ working conditions (no increases, though; the organization doesn’t have the means) and all employee files were updated. For greater efficiency and improved monitoring, the En Marge pay department was entrusted to Employer D, a service provided by Desjardins. That way, each one can track the progress of his/her job on the pay stub: money, days off, vacation time, etc.
En Marge 12-17 offers three types of accommodation and is available 24/7. The first is an emergency shelter for young runaways, who can take refuge there for three days. Along with the workers, the young person can come up with solutions to his/her immediate problems. The second type of accommodation is short term and lasts 30 days. Runaways are not kept during the day, unless they can be provided with a structuring activity: helping tend the vegetable garden (seasonal), participating in the collective kitchens, sports activities, etc.
The last type of accommodation provided to young people is referred to as transition. This is social housing for young people aged 16 to 22, who will be able to develop skills there that are needed for living in housing independently or to take time for achieving a life goal, like going back to school. They usually come from youth centres and/or have had little family guidance. In those cases, they are offered the possibility, for a maximum of two years, of living in supervised housing, where they will be provided with the tools needed for learning how to become more self-reliant.
With the organization “Sentier Urbain”, which specializes in urban agriculture, a vegetable garden has been created in front of the building. An advisor comes once a week to provide concepts, and the young people are responsible for maintaining it to ultimately contribute to the harvesting of the vegetables, herbs and several fruits. The knowledge gained is then transferred to the kitchen and augmented with aspects involving economics, processing, canning and safety.
By its very nature, En Marge comes to represent “home” in the minds of some young people who come to the organization. After benefitting from its services, feeling non-judgmentally welcomed there, finding a friendly ear and compassionate workers, it isn’t uncommon for the young people to return relatively often to have dinner, sleep overnight, get away from the stress on the street, and make progress on their life plan.
En Marge will also be a stakeholder with four other organizations in the project SHÈRES, which will come into being soon after two years of deliberations and the funding for which is coming from Canada’s National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC). With the involvement of L’Anonyme (an STBBI-prevention resource), les Survivantes, the unit established by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), the CIUSSS-CSIM (formerly the Youth Centres) and the CIUSSS ODIM (formerly the Batshaw Youth and Family Centre), the aim is to a) help 150 young people from lapsing back into sexual exploitation and b) prevent it.
Each partner has expertise is that connection, which is complementary. A committee will meet once a week to take stock. Intervention must begin in October. A research group associated with the project will document the practices and impacts and, over five years, will track the progress of the young people, most of whom are expected to be girls. En Marge receives funding for a resource that will be assigned to the project. The position is open internally and will result in a shifting among the current assignments, plus a position to be filled by an external person. However, this desirable mobility generates great momentum, brings new challenges for the team and the individuals, and prevents compassion fatigue, a trap that ensnares people in the intervention community who don’t have a chance to see things from a new perspective.
Although En Marge contributes to and witnesses some success stories, the fact remains that the current issues are weighty: a lot of drug use (MDMA, ecstasy) connected with, among other things, trivialization which leads to dependency and other behaviour problems, a growing number of mental health problems, difficulty getting out of survival mode, etc.
This is why it is important to provide alternatives to marginalized young people and why En Marge 12-17 has an essential role to play more than ever.