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.

Go Niners

The Joe Rodota Trail

Homelessness is complicated, unpopular, and controversial. We each have our own opinion about homelessness. The Joe Rodota Trail is a good example. How we got here is important so we can learn from our mistakes and not let it happen again. But how we resolve the Trail’s many challenges is another thing.

What the County is doing is courageous and a good start. They are doing the right thing by deploying trained professionals to the Trail – experts in mental health, substance abuse, case management, conflict resolution, housing, and more. A multi-disciplinary approach. The professionals also understand cultural competency and that those experiencing homelessness are a heterogeneous group of people each with different needs and wants and all with the desire for safety and security – the LGBTQ and more groups, youth, black and brown, veterans, seniors, those with acute mental and physical health challenges, women, families with children, and more.

My hope is that as we continue to make progress and positive change with the occupants of the Trail, that we also concurrently put plans in place for the other 93% of the homeless in Sonoma County who are not on the Trail. They too are important. We need a range of short, medium, and long term solutions all moving forward at the same time with specific timelines to implement. For example, we need a greater number of safe and humane managed encampments as not all want to go into shelter or housing. We need more shelter beds as a transition from the encampments to housing. We need areas for safe parking and for mobile homes, tiny homes, SLEs (Sober Living Environments), and more traditional housing units. Since the homeless population is heterogeneous, so too must the solutions be and the ability for each person to have choice and self determination where they go. A one or two sizes fits all approach does not work.

In the mean time, I support what the County is doing and the people doing the work. They are skilled, professional, competent, and caring.

We will get there.

Is there a doctor in the house?

People inspire in different ways. Some inspire through their high energy, their vision, or their charm and charisma. Others inspire more quietly, such as Wendy Lindberg, by being an example, by living their values, by having a steely determination and focus to succeed no matter the odds, by listening intently and by learning from others. Wendy is our Shelter Case Manager at COTS and she inspires me and many others by her quiet way.

I sat with Wendy to learn about her story. Ten years ago, she moved to California with her three kids. Through unfortunate situations, she ended up homeless and at the Mary Isaak Center for three years. That did not stop her from going to the SRJC for two years. It was also important for her to keep her kids in the same school as it was their safe haven and she wanted them to like school and not stress from always changing schools. She said homelessness is hard but not as hard as living in a bad neighborhood with drugs and violence, which she fled.

Wendy said everything happens for a reason and that life works out the way it is supposed to. She said part of her success is due to being patient, having the determination and ability to change, and to be open to other avenues that are right in front of you. Wendy loves working for COTS and she said she applied for all the open positions because she was determined to work for COTS and with kids.

Wendy graduated from Sonoma State. Her goal now is to get her Master’s degree but only after her daughter graduates. Her youngest is a senior in high school and has her eyes on some of the top Universities in the nation. Her oldest daughter is going to UC Davis to study pre-med and she knows that mom wants a doctor in the house. So her goal…is to be that doctor. Way to go mom.

Thank you Wendy for inspiring us every day. We are the ones that are grateful for your persistence and determination on wanting to work for COTS and with our children.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez