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,

Funding Cuts by the County

You’ve probably read that the County of Sonoma will reduce funding to homeless service providers by 34% beginning July 1, 2020. They just don’t have as much funding to distribute as they did the previous year. They also mentioned that funding for the following year, 21-22, will likely be reduced. It’s too early to tell what impact Governor Newsom’s homeless funding proposal will have on Sonoma County. For now, the reduction is unfortunate and it’s also a reality of nonprofit life.

Over the past 14+ months, we’ve made many staff changes and department restructures to be as cost efficient and program effective as possible. We looked for opportunities to improve coordination, cooperation, and outcomes. Those changes put us in a position to better weather these types of cuts. Each person is responsible and accountable for their job, the expectations and outcomes as outlined in their job description, and to each other and their clients. We cannot carry anyone who is not. We also intentionally strengthened and invested in our revenue generating departments of Grants and Development to create stability and sustainability. Good stewardship means spending more time, not less, on grants, fundraising, and other administrative responsibilities like compliance and quality improvement, data, metrics, and outcomes.

COTS is blessed as private funding continues to be strong and our community continues to believe in and support our Mission and Vision. We are grateful for you. Thank you.

How do nonprofits survive and thrive in an ever-changing funding environment that allows them to achieve their Mission, not change who they are just to qualify for a grant, and perhaps not be a traditional charitable organization?

I’m often asked why nonprofits don’t merge with each other. If there are 10,000 nonprofit organizations each serving 100 clients, should there instead be 100 nonprofit organizations each serving 10,000 clients more cost efficiently and with improved impact?

As we move forward, we will consider all of this and more to ensure that we are responsible stewards of your cherished investment in COTS and that we continue to help people transition from homelessness to a permanent home.

Clockwise from upper left: Development Manager Eileen Morris, Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix, Chef Janin Harmon, and Facilities Manager John McEntee

Roundtable by Congressman Jared Huffman

On Monday, Congressman Jared Huffman was at COTS conducting a Roundtable. We were delighted to host the Congressman and about 22 community leaders from Sonoma County. The Congressman wanted to know how he, on a federal level, can support effective homeless and housing strategies in our County through funding, policy, and advocacy. He was looking for solutions.

There were lots of suggestions and concerns raised. The need for sustainable funding instead of just for one or two years; the noticeable rise in hate speech and violence towards those experiencing homelessness; the need to push people out of their comfort zones and to force the conversation to solutions; that homelessness has negative impacts on the environment; that there needs to be a more coordinated and organized continuum of services and not organizations and services working in silos; that we need much more funding to solve challenges with mental health and substance abuse and addiction. The Congressman is having these Roundtables throughout his District to better inform him of the challenges we are facing and some possible solutions.

Hosting your Congressman is no easy feat. At the same time as the Roundtable was going on, we had a training ten feet away to prepare for our Annual Point in Time Count being done on Friday. This is where hundreds of people go to all parts of Sonoma County at 5am to count those experiencing homelessness. On top of that, we have to care for and feed over 112 homeless residents for breakfast and lunch. Our staff and shelter residents did a beautiful job with the logistics of parking, cleaning the shelter to be presentable, ensuring residents are fed, hosting two simultaneous events, and appearing calm and controlled during it all.

So much thanks goes to our staff and shelter residents for a smooth-running morning. Special thanks goes to Development Manager Eileen Morris, Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix, Facilities Manager John McEntee, and our chef Janin Harmon for taking charge and working with their teams on the many details behind the scenes. Many of us were excited to host this event and there was a real sense of pride in showing off the Mary Isaak Center.

Another busy and satisfying day at COTS.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez