Prompted by a great aversion to social inequality, Jacques Baillargeon, a resident of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, set out 25 years ago to equip local young adults who are homeless or in difficulty to take charge of their lives.
If he has succeeded, it is because he is a leader who fought tooth and nail to defend his empowerment-based intervention philosophy, despite raising a few eyebrows in the process.
A true social entrepreneur, Mr. Baillargeon founded Auberge du coeur l’Escalier in 1988. From the very start, there was no question of this youth shelter practising the type of intervention that prevailed at the time.
At the Auberge, young people in difficulty are deeply anchored in daily life. Donning their aprons, residents prepare their own meals. Pencil and calculator in hand, they learn to do a budget. They are required to go out during the day in order to get on with things. And they are expected to act responsibly at all times, because youth workers are present at the shelter only on weekdays.
By going against the current in its early days, the Auberge played a pioneering role without realizing it. Today, the vast majority of youth shelters have adopted the intervention model designed by Mr. Baillargeon.
But that’s not all. By 1994, it had become obvious to Mr. Baillargeon that young people were faced with an additional challenge after they left the Auberge. Although better equipped, they had trouble keeping a job. He therefore decided it was essential to offer them follow-up services so as to prevent them from falling back to square one.
That led to the idea of creating a job integration company, Distributions l’Escalier, where some one hundred young people come every year to acquire work experience while improving their personal skills. More recently, a social economy farm, La Ferme aux Champêtreries, was established at a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Montreal. As well as supplying produce to Distributions l’Escalier, the farm offers young people, who are too often cooped up in the concrete city, a chance to broaden their horizons.