Metropolitan Ministries recently opened a nine-person Brandon area office to help families facing homelessness.

Metropolitan Ministries is known in the Tampa Bay area for helping thousands of families facing homelessness every year. One of the group’s lesser known programs, First Hug, helps the children of these families and recently expanded to the Brandon area.

According to Sandra Gonzalez, Supervisor of Family Advocates for Metropolitan Ministries, the charity decided to open an office in Brandon late last year after noticing a large number of referrals coming from the area.

“The First Hug Program has been a successful one for us for more than five years,” said Karrie Roller, Vice President of Case Management for Metropolitan Ministries. “We felt strongly that with the large number of people expressing interest in the program from the Brandon area that it would be beneficial to become immersed in the community and base a team there.”

First Hug is a child-centered program for families with children from birth to middle school age who are homeless or facing homelessness. Families referred to the program, either through schools, other agencies or self-identification, meet with a mobile team of family and child advocates to establish a plan to reduce the family stress and make strides towards self-sufficiency.

The program’s goals are to help the children achieve success at school and to stabilize the family life by reducing stress and providing resources, tools and education that also lead to connection with job and home placement services where appropriate.

“Our specialists and advocates can come to the family and see where they need help,” said Gonzalez. “Once we sign on with a family, we meet weekly, face-to-face to help with issues from child developmental screenings to aid in finding safe living environments.”

Since opening in January, the Brandon office has received 71 referrals and has already started helping 34 families with many more pending. Specialists are bilingual and can help English and Spanish speaking families.

The program is supported by a grant from the Hillsborough County Children’s Board, but donations and volunteers are always needed. Residents with expertise in financial, credit counseling and employment areas are especially needed to offer boot camps and classes for clients working towards stabilization.

To learn more about the program, visit www.metromin.org or call 385-4016.