We always knew it, but a lookback at 2019 confirms: you make miracles happen at COTS. Thank you!

Here is a roundup of your 2019 miracles.

Children playing with COTS volunteer Nick Harris at the Kids First Family Shelter

417 people in Shelter

In Sonoma County’s expensive and crowded rental market, shelter can be a godsend. It’s a place to catch your breath, to assess, to get help, to take action. With your support, COTS sheltered 417 people last year through the Mary Isaak Center and Kids First Family Shelter. Thank you!

Former COTS client Rebekah Sammet shared her story with us for the 2019 COTS Hour breakfast at the Petaluma Veterans Auditorium.

437 people permanently housed!

In 2018-19, COTS was able to support 437 people in permanent housing through a range of housing programs across Sonoma County.

After 31 years in the social services, we know that nobody gets back on their feet overnight. And no two people need exactly the same support to find and keep permanent housing. Thanks to you, COTS can tailor our assistance to the need. One family might need some short-term rental assistance and a little help finding childcare. Another might need a permanent subsidy and a COTS staff person to help with daily tasks. COTS staff, with the support of our community, is able to provide help across the spectrum of need – to meet clients where they are at and help our neighbors experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.

Expanded homelessness prevention and outreach services

As tragedies go, homelessness ranks high. Preventing homelessness by helping people stay in their own homes when times get tough ensures consistency and security for the whole family. These are must-haves for school or job success or for healthy child development. This year COTS expanded our rental assistance program to help families recover from illness or job loss without losing their home.

Last July, COTS also partnered with an anonymous funder to expand our free meal program to include dinner as well as lunch. That means anyone in our community experiencing hunger can save their precious dollars for rent instead of meals. And this past December, we served more than 8,800 meals – a record for Mary’s Table!

In addition, this past summer, we launched a new initiative to open laundry and showers to anyone in need, even if they are not a COTS client. This ensures that anyone who wants to come in, clean up, and get a hot meal has a chance to do so, even if they are not yet ready to move into shelter.

Unfortunately, at COTS we know that a lot of people who are living in their cars or along our waterways have given up hope. They don’t believe in the system. They don’t believe in themselves.

That’s why our outreach workers have a slow and steady, whatever-it-takes approach. Lead Outreach Specialist Randy Clay (pictured left) might start by introducing himself to someone who’s camping. Randy will offer some clean, dry socks, maybe a ride to a court date, a medical appointment or detox. Sometimes quickly, sometimes over many months, a connection sparks. That means our outreach team can bring people inside to safety, services, and better future for us all.

One example of this success is that COTS staff helped five people moved directly from the streets to an Integrity House – our home-grown, shared permanent housing program. Two of those people quickly became three when their baby was born right before the holidays.

Thanks to you, we were able to help 417 people last year through our homeless prevention and outreach programs.

Better together

COTS is not in this fight alone. The support of our community is essential to our work – we can only uplift our neighbors in need when everyone pitches in. And the more you help us spread the word, the more our community rises to the occasion! This year we have been honored by the partnerships that have helped refine and expand our programs and services.

Permanent Supportive Housing

This year, we were able to work with St. Joseph Health to provide 11 rooms of permanent supportive housing to chronically homeless people in fragile health. The rooms are on the second floor of the Mary Isaak Center, right next to the satellite office of the Petaluma Health Center.

The program is new, but we already know that it’s improved our residents’ health and reduced the number of visits they make to area emergency rooms. This saves money for both the hospital and taxpayers – and ensures that our clients are able to access healthcare before they face a crisis.

Recuperative Care

Thanks, in part, to the success of our Permanent Supportive Housing at the Mary Isaak Center, this year COTS signed an agreement with Kaiser Permanente and St. Joseph Health are partnering with COTS to provide six recuperative care beds for homeless patients as they are discharged from the hospital. These beds will provide a quiet oasis on the Mary Isaak Center’s second floor where people can get the rest and care they need to rebound from illness or injury. In recuperative care, clients will receive case management to help them access a shelter bed or housing if possible and support with their medications or other health concerns as they recover from their hospital stay. This should reduce the number of return visits to the emergency room and potentially save thousands of dollars per client per day.

Professional Development

We have staff members at COTS who are both dedicated and talented. And like any business in Sonoma County, we need to help them develop their potential. Thanks to your support, we are able to launch a program to provide management training to COTS staff and employees of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa. This will help ensure that our teams are connected and performing at the highest levels possible, so that clients receive the best care we can provide.

Plans for the Future

With approximately 3,000 people homeless in Sonoma County, we have to do more!

  • Stay tuned for more information about a collaboration with the City of Petaluma to expand our facilities and our permanent housing.
  • Stay tuned for more information about exciting volunteer opportunities in programs like Rent Right and Work Ready.

Holiday Free Store

The Plaza North Shopping Center transformed into a satellite branch of the North Pole last month with a host of hardworking elves! Thanks to efforts of any army of volunteers and donors, we were able to provide holiday gifts for 121 low-income families. And thanks to the Plaza North’s site donation, the Free Store was really free.

Over 20 bikes, warm jackets too numerous to count, backpacks, baby dolls, picture books and game cards; notebooks, rubber ducks, airplanes and basket balls; jewelry kits, jump ropes, jigsaws, a jack in the box; board games, beanbags, crayons and teddy bears.  We could go on and on and on.
Santa’s “nice list” is too long to include in full, but here a few stand-outs:

  • 35 volunteers
  • Gallelli Real Estate/Plaza North Shopping Center Management
  • Poker 4 Presents, Ryan Kelly’s annual giving miracle
  • WX Brands
  • Petaluma Sea Scouts
  • Petaluma Valley Rotary
  • Graton Resort and Casino
  • Sax’s Joint
  • Petaluma Family Dentristry
  • Kaiser Nurses
  • Margi Doherty
  • Vegher Development, Inc.
  • The Petaluma Argus-Courier
  • K-MART

Many thanks to all of you who dropped off toys, clothes, gift cards, and more. You filled our hearts with gratitude this holiday season, and we could not be prouder to be a part of this amazing community!

More love and engagement

This December, COTS had to issue a first-of-its-kind moratorium on donations of furniture and clothing. That’s because after the Kincade fire and the holiday season, we didn’t have the space or manpower to process your generous donations!

We can’t tell you how uplifting it is to receive an avalanche of coats and cots, toiletries and towels. Or how lovely to meet a parade of donors everyday as they drop by the shelter to give. You made staff and residents feel wonderful and you supplied us with much-needed goods.

Thank you also to everyone who organized fundraisers and awareness campaigns, or who gave us your vote of confidence when you talked to your friends, family and co-workers. You expressed your concerns to elected leaders, resulting in increased government funding for homeless services. And we are especially grateful to our incredible volunteers – who make our services run and offer warmth and a smile to our clients when they are at their most vulnerable.

You invested in our work. You invested in our clients.

What are the returns on your investments? Here’s what Sam Yee, a former client and now a successful Exchange Bank employee had to say at The COTS Hour on December 5:

“Your support goes to an amazing organization that truly saved my life…

“My family, although filled with love, was not quite able to help me in a situation where I found myself feeling so helpless. I had no one to turn to, and I felt so lost as far as what my next step was. When I got accepted into Mary Isaak Center, I felt such a huge relief. I felt there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it turns out- that light was even brighter than could have ever imagined.

“…you are helping so many lives be greater. Your generosity will create a ripple effect! Since COTS helped me so much, I always try to give back to COTS as well. I enjoy helping with the Holiday Store, serving dinner on weekends, anything I can to give back what was given to me. By giving to this organization, not only are you helping to save lives, you are also helping our community as a whole.

Thank you for all the support you’ve given to COTS and our clients. Your partnership is essential to our life-saving work, and we would love to show you that work in person. If you are interested in a tour of the Mary Isaak Center to see learn more about our programs, please contact Jamieson Bunn, Director of Development at 707-765-6350 ext. 100. There is so much on the horizon at COTS in 2020, and we can’t wait to share it with you!