By Jasmine Stamos

Photo: Amanda Ryan, Case Worker and Child and Youth Liaison with Families First program

Amanda Ryan can pinpoint the moment she became passionate about providing support for the homeless. “I was working with a young mom who was involved in a violent relationship with a partner. She was pregnant at the time and had a little one. And she had to flee from the situation.” The woman made the difficult decision during a counselling session with Ryan, who helped her safely relocate in spite of barriers like overfilled women’s centres.

Ryan, a Case Worker and Child and Youth Liaison with Families First program at the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre, has 15 years of experience in social work. She has been working with the Families First team for five years. “I thought it was a fantastic program, and it [reminded me of] that experience years before working with that young mom and knowing things could’ve been done better than they were.”

The Families First program seeks to support those leaving the shelter system in their endeavours to find housing and become independent and integrated into a new community. This is done with the understanding that, as Ryan says, “a snapshot taken of a family in shelter is not a snapshot of who that family is or how they can truly function.”

A voluntary program, the multidisciplinary team steps into action once a family has been referred to them from a shelter. As Case Manager, Ryan ensures that the head of household understands the basics of managing a home. This includes how and when to pay rent, who to call for maintenance, and connecting them with community resources.

At the core of this is linking families with other organizations in order to meet their individual needs. “It’s [about] assessing what they need and referring them to those helping agencies that can do it.” For example, in her role as Child and Youth Liaison, Ryan oversees children transitioning to new schools, helps the head of household access daycare facilities, connects families to counselling, and helps find a family doctor. It is all about providing the family with connections.

In Ryan’s experience, the home is the catalyst for change. “Once [the families] got that stability of home […] all of a sudden all those issues we thought were attached to the person were attached to the situation.” While Families First works with families for nine months, the long-term impact is profound.

“We’ve had clients who’ve had very little experience being independent in their own home, very little understanding of Canadian culture and Canadian education systems for their children […] the strides those families can take within those months — it boggles my mind.” Families First continues to provide the tools necessary for families to become self-sufficient. And oftentimes, the confidence that comes from self-reliance is all that is needed for a healthy, happy home.