I would like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you to share our progress in serving the homeless, and hear from you about what we could be doing differently or better. Until then, I’d like to introduce you to a Virtual Cup of Coffee. This is my new monthly communique about the business and mission moments of COTS – Committee On The Shelterless. In the Business portion, I will share the nuts and bolts of what we do to serve the homeless – our successes and our challenges. In the Mission Moment, I will share stories about our clients and our wonderful staff who make it all happen. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to your feedback.

All my best,

Our Business – Homelessness Point in Time Count

At 4:00 am on January 25th, volunteers, homeless guides, and staff from COTS and the County’s Community Development Commission started to assemble in the dining room of COTS’s Mary Isaak Center. It was time for the annual Point in Time count – the one day every January where teams of people are dispatched from eight points around Sonoma County to count the homeless – in cars, tents, parks, on the streets, under bridges, and abandoned buildings. This annual census helps determine how much funding we get from the federal and state government to provide homeless services. It also helps with strategic planning, capacity building, policy making, and advocacy campaigns to end homelessness.

Surveys are also done to gather demographic and other data that will show homeless information by area, gender, race/ethnicity, age, length of time homeless, where they lived prior to becoming homeless, events that led them to become homeless, obstacles to finding a home, health conditions, and much more.

Last year, the count was 2,996 in Sonoma County. The City of Santa Rosa had the most with 1,563 or 52%. Petaluma was 2nd with 285 or 10%. The total county wide count for 2017 was 2,835. Many believe that given what they see on the streets or in encampments, the actual count is higher.

The homeless guides who participated were either currently or formerly homeless. They help the volunteers identify the hard to find areas where people often sleep. On January 25th, I was a volunteer who drove two guides around a designated area to count. I encourage all of you to do this next year. It’s a chance to build a relationship with your guides, get to know them as human beings, understand their story, and to better understand homelessness. The guides I was with were truly wonderful and caring human beings.

Our Community

One of my favorite authors is Peter Block. In his book, Community – The Structure of Belonging, he talks about the importance of community leaders who hold themselves accountable to create a strong and connected community and make a difference. He says that community is about belonging and that belonging is about being a part of something, “a membership where you experience a kind of friendship, hospitality, and conviviality.” He also says that “to belong to a community is to act as creator and co-owner of that community – what I consider mine I will build and nurture.”

A significant part of my role is to build community relationships. Someone once said that “all business is about relationships.” One of the agencies I first met with when I arrived at COTS was Rebuilding Together Petaluma. They reached out to me. I didn’t know who they were or what they did. I quickly found out that they were led by two very capable, caring, and strong community leaders – Jane Hamilton and Victoria O’Riley. They shared what Rebuilding Together Petaluma does, how they serve the community and COTS, and what they needed from me and COTS. They were accountable, took ownership of their community, were making a difference, and were kind, friendly, and hospitable. They created a structure of belonging and membership. I also realized that we at COTS can do a better job of building relationships and being accountable to our communities.

Thank you Jane and Victoria for being accountable and for creating a community of belonging, friendship, and hospitality.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez