The Families First (FF) program was developed as part of the City of Ottawa’s Housing and Homelessness Investment Plan, with additional support provided by the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Launched in 2011, the program – delivered by the Pinecrest Queensway Community Health Centre (PQCHC) provides help to families moving from emergency shelters to housing in the community. The support, which can last up to 9 months, is provided by a multidisciplinary team with expertise in child and youth development, substance abuse, mental health and multiculturalism. The program works with families holistically – including parents and children of varying ages – helping them to develop skills, strengthening their family, fostering social and community integration and providing assistance with mental health and substance use. By way of recounting the stories of their interactions with two families, FF staff outline below how their program has become so effective in supporting housing stability.
Family Story 1
Sarah is an American citizen living in Canada with one son. She had been placed into a family shelter after exiting an abusive relationship. The FF Housing Search and Stabilization Worker at the family shelter assisted her in applying for social housing and also connected her with a Violence against Women counselor who provided ongoing counseling and guidance in pursuing legal custody of her son. Once safe and affordable housing was secured, Sarah was referred to other members of the FF team.
Sarah’s FF caseworker identified several of Sarah’s needs, such as child care, recreational activities for her son and herself, a new family doctor, and local, community supports such as the good food box, community health services, food bank, shops, etc. Her caseworker also arranged for furniture for Sarah’s new home. Food vouchers were provided when Sarah’s budget was tight. Further, the Ontario electricity support program information and application was shared with Sarah and she was referred to the Christmas exchange program. As well, the FF caseworker provided her with information on the process of applying for a college book-keeping program – an area of interest for Sarah.
The FF Child and Youth Liaison Worker assisted Sarah in registering her son into a nursery program so Sarah could invest in her own self-care. As well, the Child and Youth Liaison Worker arranged for Sarah’s son to be assessed at PQCHC’s First Words’ speech and language program.
Due to Sarah’s ongoing safety concerns and trauma experienced during domestic abuse, she expressed feeling heightened stress and anxiety. Therefore, the FF Mental Health and Addictions Worker provided additional support to Sarah. In conversation with her, the Mental Health and Addictions Worker determined that she experienced historic parental and religious abuse as a child and even as an adult. She shared that she had experienced suicidal thoughts during adolescence and during her relationship with her abusive husband and that she had been prescribed anti-depressant medication in the past. Sarah was provided information on resources and services in the community around mental health.
Overall, the FF’s multi-disciplinary team noted an improvement in Sarah and her son’s overall well-being and mental health. Sarah exhibited great resilience in overcoming her historic and current obstacles. Sarah herself expressed her appreciation for the care she received from all members of the FF team.
Family Story 2
N. and her son R., who was 10½ years old at the time, participated with the FF program in 2014. A Families First Case Worker, Child and Youth Liaison Worker, as well as the Multicultural Liaison Worker, collaboratively supported the family once they had secured housing and moved out of the off-site shelter.
The Multicultural Liaison advocated on behalf of N. with her local immigration lawyer and it was determined that there were problems with her immigration application. Additionally, N.’s work permit was due to expire. The Multicultural Liaison supported N. with gathering the appropriate documents for her application as well as with renewing her work permit, which allowed N. to find employment. Her caseworker accompanied her to local employment resource centres and helped her access employment supports through Ontario Works. N. soon found employment as a personal support worker. Although now employed, N. struggled financially because her hours varied week to week, which affected her income month to month, and in turn had an impact on her subsidized rent and on her assistance from Ontario Works. She struggled with household expenses and payments, including her rent and utility bills, to the point where she was at risk of losing her housing. The stress of the family’s situation, and the fact that N. often had to work early in the morning or later at night, began to impact her son. He began having difficulties at school, including difficulties with his behaviour and his school work.
With support from FF, N. was able to access local financial supports, preventing her from having to return to shelter. Budgeting supports were also put in place so that she was better able to manage her finances. She was also helped with accessing local food security programs. The Child and Youth Liaison supported N. at a school meeting where her son’s struggles were discussed, but also ensured needed supports at school were put in place. Furthermore, the Child and Youth Liaison helped N.’s son access local homework clubs and participate in recreational activities by accessing a subsidy program. N. also made the decision to pursue other employment that would work better for her and her family’s needs. Through a referral by her caseworker, she enrolled in a home daycare training program offered at a local Community Health Centre.
N. has remained in contact with the FF staff and has proudly shared her and her son’s updates and successes. She continues to be thankful for the support the FF program provided her. She remains housed, and recently informed us that she is currently (and happily) employed as a school bus driver with the hope that this will help her achieve her goal of becoming a bus driver with OC Transpo.