As COTS’ CEO, each month I take a moment to consider what I want our community to know about our organization and our progress in serving Sonoma County’s homeless. I look forward to sharing these thoughts with you in this Virtual Cup of Coffee – my 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,

Program Funding

I’m often asked how much funding we get from the government, foundations and private donations. In 2018, about 17% of our revenue came from government grants while 71% came from private donations and foundations. The remaining comes from contracted services, rental income, and what we call in-kind contributions including donated food, supplies or even the time our wonderful volunteers spend helping COTS.

In the past several weeks, you’ve likely read in the newspaper how Sonoma County was in the process of approving funding for homeless services. This funding will support capital improvements to shelters, the expansion of available housing, and operating costs for the various homeless programs. Yesterday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved $14M for those expenses.

Prior to this approval, the County received over 80 applications from various homeless services agencies requesting a total of $32 million in funding. There is never enough money, so it is difficult to determine who gets what and why and how Sonoma County can best achieve our goal of ending homelessness. It is estimated that the $14 million approved by the county will reduce homelessness by 20%, support development of 172 new permanent supportive housing units and rehabilitate 104 existing units; provide intensive services to 257 chronically homeless people; support a tiny homes pilot project; and more.

Of the available $14 million, COTS received about $1.3 million – over 80% of the funds we requested. This will go toward our Diversion Program to keep people out of homelessness; support for daily operations of the Mary Isaak Shelter; our housing programs; capital funds to improve the Mary Isaak and Kids First Family Shelters; and a Winter Shelter beginning in December 2019 to get people out of the cold during the rainy season. Especially here in Petaluma, where we’ve seen so many people die alone in the outdoors, Winter Shelter funding is a godsend.

In the end, the process for review and awarding the grants was fair, unbiased, and done with integrity and professionalism. Those who reviewed and scored each grant application took their roles very seriously and responsibly. We are truly grateful for the process and what we received.

Mission Moment – Our Landlords

The Housing First model is about getting our homeless clients in housing as soon as possible and then providing “wrap around” services that help them succeed, including case management and mental health counseling. Our clients all have different needs, so we offer a variety of housing programs, each offering a different level of services. One of these programs is called Integrity Housing, in which COTS master-leases or owns houses and then rents available rooms to individuals or families. The cost of renting an individual room in a house is significantly less than a market-rate unit, thus more affordable for our clients. Integrity Housing is one of the ways we utilize existing housing stock to provide opportunities to our clients.

Thanks to COTS’ partnering landlords, we have over 13 houses and 50 rentable rooms. We’ve rented to hundreds of people – including families and children – thanks to these generous and warm-hearted landlords. Our Property Management Department does monthly inspections, repairs and maintenance, helps tenants move in and out, and takes care of any issues with the tenants. Our landlords entrust in us their very precious investment and we hold ourselves accountable to take care of that asset as if it were our own.

Claire and John Werner currently rent one house to COTS and are adding a second to our Integrity Housing portfolio because they are so happy with the experience they’ve had working with us. Claire said, “we are helping people get back to where they belong – in a home.” She also said that, “I have to use [the properties] in a way that’s good for my family, but the beauty of these programs is I can make it good for another family too.” The fact that Claire and John can count on COTS to pay the rent on time and do regular inspections and maintenance means that they can forgo the cost of a property manager and pass the savings on to our clients.

Thank you, Claire, John, and all of our wonderful landlords who make it possible for people to live their lives with dignity and respect.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez