With the fires this last week upending so many lives, I feel strongly about communicating with our supporters about the work going on here at COTS. There is so much uncertainty in Sonoma County right now, and yet our staff is exceptionally suited to moments like these – and we remain here to serve our community as best we can.

In the Business Portion of this month’s Virtual Coffee, I wrote about how our staff is growing and learning in new ways as part of a six-month Management Cohort that builds our leadership capacity for the future. In the Mission Moment, I wrote about the relaunch of our Winter Shelter, which will allow us to welcome guests out of the cold and rain when a roof and a hot meal are needed most.

I hope that this Virtual Coffee finds you safe and warm as well. I hope you enjoy learning more about our work this month, and I look forward to your feedback.

All my best,

Building Management Capacity…Collaboratively

This month, we started our six-month Management Cohort Program. It’s a program designed by COTS and Rich Soublet, an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant whereby we bring staff together for one full day a month for six months to learn management principles. The sessions include How to Build High Performing Teams; the importance of Respect, Integrity, and Trust in building teams; Managing Conflict and Courageous Conversations; Emotional Intelligence; Communications; and Managing Transitions and Change.

There have been lots of changes in the last several years in how Sonoma County addresses homelessness. Specifically, the change from a Housing Readiness Model to Housing First. Making those changes require homeless service providers change their strategy, staffing, systems, and culture. Those changes also require that homeless service providers work together. That is why we invited Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa to participate in the Cohort Program alongside COTS staff. They are the largest provider of homeless services here in Sonoma County and are good at what they do. We can collaborate and learn together for the benefit of everyone.

The goals of our cohort are to provide an educational process that will ultimately improve our results and impact with our homeless programs and services, create a high performing culture, provide a framework for our managers to build their teams, and increase understanding of how to lead ourselves, each other, and our community. We also wanted to create a sense of belonging where everyone shares their experience and knowledge so that in the future, we will all work better together.

So on October 13, 24 staff from both agencies came together for the first of six sessions.

It was wonderful to see staff meeting each other for the first time and learning about each others’ challenges and successes; sharing ideas and best practices; and exchanging contact information so that they could communicate with each other between sessions.

Our hope is that we can continue these shared learning experiences and not only involve other homeless service providers but also learn about Leadership Principles in future cohorts.

Winter Shelter is Back

Our Winter Shelter (WS) is back. Last year, the absence of the Winter Shelter caused lots of hardship and disappointment among those experiencing homelessness. This year, thanks to a grant from the County, we will open for four months – from December 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020.

Getting people off the streets in cold wet nights is important. It can be a matter of life or death, especially in colder areas of our county, state, and nation. One study showed over 700 people in the U.S. die on the streets every year from hypothermia and other cold related issues. We don’t want that in Sonoma County.

So here’s what you can share with the community:

    • Winter Shelter (WS) beds will be available on a first come first serve basis – we will have space for 35 people.
    • We start taking names at 4:00pm every day.
    • Dinner will be at 5:00pm and Winter Shelter folks will eat with our other Mary Isaak Center residents and can expect a hot and nutritious meal.
    • After dinner, WS guests can do their laundry and take showers.
    • Guests will sleep in the Dining Room – on mats with clean sheets, pillow cases, and blankets. Bedding and mats will be cleaned every day for the next guests.
    • At 10:00pm, lights are out in the entire shelter. It is critical that all people at Mary Isaak get their rest.
    • Lights come back on at 6:30am with breakfast starting at 7:30am that will include a hot, protein-based nutritious meal – eggs, juice, muffins, fresh fruit, cereal, milk, coffee.
    • All WS guests will then get a bag lunch to take with them for the day.

We also do a brief intake interview with each WS guest – to get some general information, give them an orientation of the shelter, set behavior expectations and rules (no drugs, no alcohol, take responsibility for one’s actions), and show them where guests can store their personal belongings. On a full night during the winter, we could have as many as 158 guests at the shelter, so rules and behavior expectations are required.

We will also partner with the Redwood Gospel Mission (RGM) and their Nomadic Shelter Program so that up to ten guests who we could not accommodate at Mary Isaak will be picked up nightly by RGM for their program. Those guests will be cared for just as they would be at the Mary Isaak Center. RGM is a valued partner and we are excited to work with them.

In the weeks to come, we would be grateful for your donations of extra blankets, bed linens, and towels for our guests. Please call Diana Morales, Engagement Specialist, at (707) 765-6350 ext. 136 to donate. Thank you for supporting this program and others at COTS as we strive to serve our neighbors in need.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez