Rapid Re-Housing Update

Now that COTS’ fiscal year has ended, we are thrilled to share this year’s Rapid Re-Housing numbers. Since July 1, 2018, 195 people, including 82 children, have found housing and support through our program. 

What is Rapid Re-housing? It’s a relatively new approach to homeless services, a state and federal “best practice” informed by a body of research indicating that moving individuals experiencing homelessness into housing quickly – rather than having them endure long stays in a shelter – benefits the interests of both those individuals and the broader community. With a home, people are much better able to take care of their health, increase or stabilize their incomes, and stay clear of trouble. The benefits that a stable home brings to a child is even more pronounced: academic, social and emotional outcomes skyrocket once children are stably housed.  The benefits to our clients translate to reduced healthcare and other public sector costs for the broader community. (Read more about our Housing First approach here.) 

As part of our Rapid Re-Housing program COTS is able to provide time-limited financial assistance and supportive services to clients transitioning out of homelessness. The idea is to find housing that they’ll be able to afford once on their own once our support ends. 

Supportive services help our clients achieve that self-sufficiency and can include help with a job search or with job skills-development, linkage to childcare, healthcare or other services. The services we provide are tailored to each family’s needs and desires. 

We are grateful to the many funders who make this program possible: all our COTS supporters, the Redwood Credit Union Community Fund, the Tipping Point Community fund, the County of Sonoma,  and the City of Rohnert Park.

We look forward to reporting more on our 2018-19 results soon.

School’s out!

School’s out and the community is stepping up to help COTS’ kids have a great summer. 

At our Kids First Family Center, we have arts, crafts, stories, soccer, and science experiments courtesy of a bevy volunteers, including Nick Harris, Marie Schmittroth, Tracy Rose, and people from Drawbridge and the Petaluma Library.

Kids at Vida Nueva, our permanent supportive housing program in Rohnert Park, are journeying out to Wish Fulfilling Tree Ranch in Sebastopol once a week for six weeks to work with therapy dog Ziggy, a delightful black lab, and Ziggy’s co-therapist, Shanti Hill-Gauer (pictured right).

Shanti is a licensed clinical social worker and is an expert in animal-assisted therapy. In addition to having a blast, the kids are learning new skills while they get to know Ziggy and each other—skills like healthy boundaries setting, effective communication, teamwork, and leadership.

Kids in Integrity Housing are having adventures at sleep-away camp! One awesome young woman graduated from camper last year to counselor this year—a paying job that allows her to mentor younger kids and help them find their voices and explore their talents and interests.

Our generous donors fund these enrichment programs. Thank you to everyone who’s stepped up!

Upcoming Events at COTS

Please join us for a free picnic at the Mary Isaak Center, Thursday, July 11 to celebrate the expansion of our community meals program

For years, thanks to your support, we’ve been able to provide three meals a day to our residents and lunch to anyone who is struggling to make ends meet. This month, we were able to expand the program and have opened dinners to the larger as well. Now, we’re able to to reach people who are working or studying during the day, offering a nutritious evening meal to anyone who’s hungry.

Your support made it possible for us to qualify for the anonymous funding to expand the program. Please join us to celebrate between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., July 11, at 900 Hopper Street. We’ll have live music from the Rivertown Skifflers and special crafts and activities for kids. Everyone is welcome to Mary’s Table for fried chicken, sides, and a glass of lemonade — with special thanks to Petaluma Poultry and Preferred Sonoma Caterers. 

Please RSVP at cots.org or call Jamieson Bunn at 765-6530 x 100.

COTS likely wouldn’t have made it through its first year if it weren’t for the support of our local businesses. A timely donation from Clover, important contributions from Copperfield’s, Petaluma Market, Lace House Linen, and many other companies made all the difference back in 1988. And we never would have made it through the next 29 years if that support had not continued – and grown. We count on local businesses for consistent support but also to respond quickly when government funding priorities change abruptly, or when need becomes particularly acute.

Help us celebrate our generous businesses at a free Chamber of Commerce After Hours from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Thursday, July 25, in the Hotel Petaluma Ballroom. Side Dish provides the music, Anna B’s Kitchen provides the snacks, and some of our best local makers provide beer and wine.

The event is also your first opportunity to purchase tickets for the greatest raffle drawing of the year. The Realtors® and support staff at Century 21 Bundesen collaborate with local restaurant owners to provide exquisite dining packages to give away as raffle prizes—all to benefit COTS. Last year’s raffle raised $20,000 to support our programs and services, and this year’s prizes look better than ever. Join us on July 25 for your first chance to win!

To learn more, contact Eileen Morris at 765-6530 x 128.

Finally at home

In May, we shared the story of our client Dennis, who was recently approved for an affordable senior apartment. We are excited to report that Dennis moved into his new apartment on his birthday in June. Here he is enjoying a little cake in his comfy chair after spending the better part of an hour on the phone with PG and E (a classic rite of passage for every new renter!). The same day he moved in to his new apartment he was back to volunteer in the kitchen, serving our residents.

“Dennis left something here with me,” Mary Isaak Center resident Reggie told us today. “He taught me to persevere. I’m not going to get discouraged.”

Thank you to everyone who responded to our request to help Dennis furnish his apartment. Your donations enabled us to provide him with a bed, kitchen utensils, and a place to sit and read after a long day. 

Have an item you wish to donate? Visit our website to find out more.

Enduring Commitments

Henrietta Heyman and Betty Louise “Belu” Jones lived lives of service and civic engagement. Both women had long careers in education and social services.  Henrietta, who died at age 102, worked in munitions during World War Two. They were both singers, harmonizing through the 60s with Petaluma’s Les Chansonettes. Belu was a sculptor, active in the Petaluma Arts Council. Both Henrietta and Belu found time to support many causes, including COTS and the Petaluma Library. 

Their support didn’t end after death. Through their wills, these two friends made a huge contribution to ending homelessness in Sonoma County. We are grateful they chose COTS as their instrument. Together with Joe Cochrane from the Petaluma Library, we met recently to place a stone in our memorial garden, honoring Henrietta and Belu.

Our peaceful garden memorializes the clients we’ve lost as well as our important supporters—all are joined together in the garden and in our hearts.

Thank you, Henrietta and Belu.

You can find out more about gifts to COTS that endure here

Passion Projects

To benefit COTS, sixth-graders Ryan and Anais made and sold one-of-kind art pieces. Fourth-grade “Go Girls,” Taylor and Ava baked and sold cookies, cakes and pies. The staff at Bay Alarm held a yard sale. Blue Door Yoga held a meditation event. Brandon dedicated his birthday. Terra Firma Realty donated a percentage of their fees. The Birdhouses for COTS group decorate and sell miniature bird houses at the east side farmer’s market. Kay DeMartini hosts a story-telling event, “Long Story Short,” the second Friday of every month at Griffo Distillery.

Those are just a few of the fundraisers people have put on for COTS in recent weeks.

We love win-wins around here. You can support COTS while doing things that are fun and social or while you’re learning new skills or sharing your talents. And by sharing your love of COTS with your community, you help us sustain and expand our programs – helping more individuals, families, and children move out of homelessness to a permanent home.

For more information about fundraising for COTS, please visit Become a COTS Fundraiser.


You can’t count on kindness paying off, but it’s awfully nice when it does.

Dennis was an old hand at camping by creek sides—unnoticed much of the time—when he met an elderly brother and sister who weren’t as skilled. They had no tent, just sleeping bags and scattered bags of possessions out in the open. Dennis came upon them one day as they were on a pedestrian bridge, feeding ducks. “They were green,” Dennis says. “They didn’t know what they were doing.”

He offered them a place at his campsite and helped them get a tent. The trio looked out for each other and kept each other company. Soon, Dennis extended an invitation to another man and their neighborhood was complete. They kept their camp clean and drug free, Dennis says.

Then the brother and sister met Cecily Kagy, COTS Outreach worker. Within a few weeks, she helped them move into a rental.

Cecily had learned about Dennis from the brother and sister she’d helped. Now it was his turn. “I was on the street for eight years,” Dennis says, “and Cecily was the only person who ever approached me to say, ‘I want to help you.’”

“I was hesitant at first,” he says. “I figured it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I figured I’d probably die on the streets.”

It was a belief that made sense. Dennis had lost his rental housing in Petaluma when he was 57, after a long career installing dry wall. 40 years of repetitive use injuries, a bad case of arthritis and a nonwork-related fall that broke his hip and several other bones left him unable to work for long stretches. He camped, mostly, with short stints in shelters or motels. He worked through a temp agency when he could, but he could never save enough to get ahead. When he turned 62 he was eligible for Social Security, but that didn’t provide him enough to save for move-in costs and rent.

Cecily arrived at an opportune time.

He needed to go to court, where the District Attorney was proposing two years’ probation for a camping ticket. Cecily drove him to the Court House, and during a break in the proceedings, they talked about Dennis’ resources and hopes.

In the next days, they got busy. Dennis met Cecily at a Starbuck’s to fill out a housing application. She helped him prepare for his interview. By the time his next court date rolled around, a room had come open in COTS Integrity Housing program and he’d been approved. “When they heard that I had a place lined up, they dropped the charges,” Dennis says. “If it hadn’t been for Cecily, I’d still be homeless and I’d be on probation.”

Now, days away from his 65th birthday, Dennis shares a home with three others. The rent is a stretch—about half of his monthly income—but adds up to less than what he spent on the four or five hotel stays per month he paid for to shower and clean up.

After he spent one uncomfortable night on a twin bed, Cecily helped find him a queen-sized bed, which is a better fit for his six-foot-seven frame.

“The calm, the relaxed way you feel: that’s the biggest difference. I don’t go to sleep afraid that someone’s going to wake me up yelling, ‘Police. Exit the tent with your hands showing.’ I can walk home from the store and I don’t have to watch my back wondering if someone is going to see where I live and rob me or harass me.”

Free from the grind and all the tasks of camping, Dennis is just getting a feel for how to spend his days. One of the last things he did before he moved in was to talk with the other man at his campground, a veteran who’d resisted meeting Cecily. “He found out I was moving,” Dennis says, “and he said, ‘Tell her I’m interested.’”