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,

By the Numbers

I often I get the questions, “What’s your budget size? How many staff do you have? What are the sources of your funding or what percent of funding comes from government?”

This month, we passed our annual operating budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1. We started this process four months ago as it takes time – meeting with program staff to better understand their programs and impact; determining needs and gaps in services; deciding what’s realistic and not; ensuring that the budget is aligned with our goals and strategic plan; and concluding how much we can put away in savings to then reinvest in COTS for improvement projects down the road.

There are lots of checks and balances to make sure we are responsible stewards of the funds received. Our Finance and Executive Committees and senior management review the budget and ask lots of questions before we take it to the full board of directors for another review and then final approval.

Our budget is $7M, with 37% of that from federal, state, and local government grants, 36% from foundations, donations and monies raised at events like the COTS Hour, and 18% from what we call In-Kind Contributions – the value of all the volunteer time and food/clothing donations made to COTS. The balance is from miscellaneous income. We have 47 employees at COTS. Salaries and Wages make up 47% of the expenses, 12% are for “Pass Through” – monies we received from grants that go towards rental assistance and substance abuse treatment, 16% for In-Kind Contributions as mentioned above, with the balance for all the other expenses needed to run a business.

The budget included funding for a Winter Shelter beginning December 1, 2019 through March 21, 2020. That means on the cold and wet nights, we can get about 35 people off the streets into our warm and safe shelter at COTS and give them a hot meal. We also have a grant to upgrade our shelter that will include some ADA requirements as we are seeing more seniors and more people in wheelchairs and walkers. And thanks to another grant, plus our very generous community, we will offer dinner to those that are hungry with no place to eat.

Thank you for your trust in COTS and for your very generous gifts of time, talent, and treasure that make our work possible.

Living with Dignity

Earlier this month, we had a client pass away at the shelter. Sadly, this is common in shelters and on the streets across the U.S. Studies show that the chronically homeless die on average 20 years earlier than the average citizen. A Bay Area study on homeless deaths showed some 400 deaths on the streets of San Francisco since 2016.

Given a choice, many of us would prefer to die at home amongst family and loved ones. But our clients don’t always have that choice as they may be alone or alienated from their family or friends. Our COTS team work closely with our clients. We get to know them as human beings: their stories, struggles, and their hopes and dreams. Our housing navigators, site coordinators, kitchen staff, and volunteers almost become their family. So when someone dies, we take it very hard. This particular client lived on the streets before coming to MIC, and our staff worked hard to get him into the shelter where he started to eat, get medical attention, and improve his hygiene. As one staff said, “at least he died with dignity and that is what’s important.”

Dying with dignity is important and so is living with dignity. That’s why we make sure our clients are fed healthy, nutritious meals, get case management, and soon, have access to mental health services. While we can’t reverse the hard living and aging process that happens quickly on the streets, we can at least lessen that impact. We can also get clients into a place to live, which is such an effective way to end homelessness and help them begin the healing process.

We can also do one more thing to help our clients live with dignity. And that is to see those experiencing homelessness through the lens of compassion. Certainly more money, housing, and policy changes will help solve this issue. But so will more empathy, understanding, and less fear.

Mary’s Table, the dining room at the Mary Isaak Center, will be open to anyone experiencing hunger for dinner as of July 1, 2019! To celebrate, we’re hosting our first ever FREE all-community picnic. RSVP online by clicking here. We hope to see you there!

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez