This is a story of perseverance and determination. Forced into having to move, the organization headed by Carole Longpré had find somewhere to relocate to. Located in the Montreal district of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, it was impossible to find suitable premises to rent for relocating operations. The Montreal School Board (MSC) would not renew the lease that was to end on June 30, 2017.
This is a story of perseverance and determination. Forced into having to move, the organization headed by Carole Longpré had find somewhere to relocate to. Located in the Montreal district of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, it was impossible to find suitable premises to rent for relocating operations. The Montreal School Board (MSC) would not renew the lease that was to end on June 30, 2017
During that frantic search that didn’t yield any results, the idea arose to erect a building that would bring together the community premises on the ground floor and the housing units intended for single-parent families on the upper floors. The opportunity arose when the construction planned for a recreation centre project was aborted. The story came to Carol’s attention, and she jumped on the opportunity, for the benefit of Escale Famille Le Triolet, to take over that new construction, which had already drawn the attention of the architectural group Rayside Labossière and the Technical Resource Group (TRG) called “Bâtir son quartier”. To reduce costs and ensure on-time delivery, the architects made adjustments to the project rather than rethink the whole thing from the beginning. Over the course of the project, various architects took over, one after the other, and at the time of writing this, a fourth project manager has been assigned to the job to represent the TRG. Carole was the one at the helm and distilled the accumulated knowledge about the living environment that the team was aiming to create.
The nearly $6-million project is 90% funded by the Société d’habitation du Québec via the AccèsLogis program, which requires the organization to put up a portion of self-funding. The Ministry of Families funds only the NPO’s mission. However, the financial arrangement is complicated and still uncertain (!), placing yet more tension on the shoulders of this very small team… which took on more responsibilities in order to offset the sometimes poorly delivered support in the process.
The day before presenting the revised project to the City of Montreal, they learned that the architect who was to present with them was not the person they developed the project with. And, at the time the construction started, a new architect in charge of implementation took over, as is often the case at this stage. Although the schedules themselves didn’t change, our community manager had to deal with all sorts of unknowns that would hinder the project’s progress.
Carole ground her teeth with each difficulty until an eye tooth broke, and she had complications during extraction. And it was out of the question to cut services to her members, so along with Geneviève the assistant director and workers, she managed to continue operations. She also had to take on an additional resource to support the development of the new housing component within the construction project as well as that person’s suitability based on the needs expressed. That was when Melanie came on the scene.
All the decisions were in addition to the previous responsibilities. Thus, she had to identify the many resource changes that, with each one, resulted in lost information and knowledge. No choice but to comply with the City of Montreal by-law and hold a public call for tenders and do business with the contractor that was the lowest bidder. In addition to that demanding partner the TRG, the engineers and all the funders also had their requirements.
For example, the contractor bid $240,000 lower than its closest rival. Its price was guaranteed for 90 days, i.e. until October 1, 2016. The MSB indicated the end of the lease on June 30, 2017. The organization didn’t receive the agreement for starting construction until October 15. Due to the delayed construction start, the winter weather that would prevail and meeting the June 30 delivery date, the contractor called “Les Entreprises Arbour” immediately announced a $120,000 increase in the cost of the job.
However, Les Entreprises Arbour was sensitive to the organization’s mission and, during a benefit event in early December 2016, announced a donation of $30,000. You will agree that this was good news! However, on December 23, the City insisted that the organization declare in writing that it would never use that amount to protect itself from potential allegations of wrongdoing! The City of Montreal also insisted on reviewing the organization’s financial statements over a three-year period. Those concerns and that unnecessary pressure were not what Carole Longpré needed for spending the Holiday period…
Each phase of the project’s progress had its share of surprises. In addition to that was the great tension between the district’s civil servants and political power, which impacted management and the organization. Thus, supposedly for construction needs, the City, unannounced, cut down a tree at the site and sent a $3,800 invoice to the organization for the cost of the cutting and the value of the tree.
The bureaucracy and bureaucratic delays, personality conflicts, disputes between trades people, extra construction costs, a construction strike, funding-related difficulties, program compatibility, reaching the substantial completion threshold for confirming certain grants, equipment that broke or was improperly connected… and so on.
In parallel, on June 30, 2017 as planned, the premises were vacated for the MSB and the materials stored. During the summer, until September 25 when they would be able to occupy the new building, the team continued their operations in homelessness, management, with the assistance of Cassiopé, incorporated into the team thanks in part to an Emploi Québec program, arranged workshops on change management with employees, they took on two new workers with whom they developed the new housing component, selected tenants, changed the initial direction to be sure to meet the demand from the neighbourhood, and finalized the site.
I would never be able to do justice to the resilience exhibited by Carole Longpré and her team in carrying out this project that was fraught with hurdles, setbacks and difficulties. In late September, they had 10 days to set up the premises, get familiar with the spaces and prepare for the arrival of families and tenants. Among the latter, 60% were under age 25 and 70% were in urgent need of relocating. They amounted to 21 families and had to move by October 15. Eight of the tenants were young single mothers registered at the Rosalie-Jetté school in the neighbourhood. They were there developing their parenting skills and using the school’s daycare centre. For most of them, it was a first housing experience and they had nothing. In an emergency, Escale Famille Le Triolet has to rely on bonds of fellowship for furnishing the units with at least a fridge and beds for the mothers and children. For the time being, a kitchen set up on the ground floor would address the tenants’ needs for preparing food. That informal gathering at mealtimes indirectly enabled the tenants to get to know each other. The communal laundry room also contributed to that dynamic. To complete their settling in, it’s important for solutions to be found jointly by the mothers themselves with assistance from the workers.
The arrival of that new building on the street aroused the neighbours’ curiosity and mistrust. To ease minds and exhibit transparency, Escale Famille Le Triolet opened its doors to the neighbourhood on October 24 for the entire day. With the arrival of 120 people, that approach ended up breaking down considerable resistance.
Deployment of the organization’s services and its new reality also mobilized partners from the community network. They developed relationships with about 50 new partners and brought in some of them for activities intended for member families. Activities for young mothers and their children, concerns about food safety generated many discussions. Management is involved in searching for collective solutions and the combining of efforts and solutions within the neighbourhood.
187 families including tenants are members of Escale Famille Le Triolet. When the project was implemented, the organization had to re-establish and develop its network within the business community either by sharing expertise, support and advice or by providing positions on the Board of Directors. Through their involvement, this ambitious project was able to come to fruition.
Some other sources of support that came forward right at the start stuck with it for the entire exhausting process: United Way, well aware of the locale’s reality believed in it right from day one. The MP for the riding of Bourget Maka Kotto was also present and applauded Carole Longpré’s courage and determination by awarding her the National Assembly medal. To quote Carole: [translation] “In a survival context, they helped us continue celebrating life”.
Despite the issue of relocating, with all efforts combined, the organization managed to develop, address needs, protect what they have. Seeing the joy of the young mothers and their children upon settling into brand new apartments with nearby services made up for all the frustrations and difficulties experienced by the remarkable team from Escale Famille Le Triolet.