Celebrate Spring at Hops for Homes

Every spring at COTS, we look back on the past year and feel a bloom of joy for our amazing volunteers! Once again it’s time to celebrate the sunshine you bring to our clients at Hops for Homes from 5:30 to 8:30 on April 28.

Many thanks to Lagunitas Brewery which hosts us every year.

We’ll be joined by Foxes in the Henhouse, a great local band with a program sure to get you dancing. Anna B’s Kitchen returns with a delectable dinner.

The Active 20-30 Club is hosting a Kids Corner full of arts, crafts and games. Caricaturist Pete McDonnell will roam the crowd creating keepsake portraits. Plus, our raffle and silent auction include fantastic gifts from local theaters, wineries, restaurants, shops and artists. Stay tuned next month for a full list.

Of course, we’ll be following the Sonoma County Department of Health’s guidelines for sanitation and will have an abundance of gloves and hand sanitizers! Check our website for updates – and get your tickets at cots.org.


Homelessness roundtable with Representative Huffman

Last Monday, Congressman Jared Huffman visited COTS’ Mary Isaak Center to convene stakeholders in the fight against homelessness. It was an honor to welcome the Congressman and share our thoughts, concerns and ideas with such a passionate and thoughtful group.

The hour-long meeting included representatives from the healthcare system, the junior college, law enforcement, local government and agencies serving the homeless. Congressman Huffman asked for ideas about how he could direct federal resources to easing homelessness and the housing crisis here in Sonoma County.

Thanks to our generous and hard-working residents and staff, the roundtable discussion went off without a hitch. Our residents cleaned and shined every single surface at the center. They made way for visitors’ cars in the parking lot. They directed traffic and moved furniture. They greeted guests.

Our chef Janin Harmon and her crew of volunteers created a delightful mid-morning spread, featuring recently donated marmalade from LaLa’s Urban Farm Stand and cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. Trader Joe’s supplied flowers and produce. Everyone came together to make the event happen with short notice, and we could not be prouder of our COTS family!

Thank you to Congressman Huffman, his staff, and everyone who gathered at COTS to discuss the homelessness crisis. We believe that by keeping the channels of communication open and partnering wherever possible, we stand a much better chance of getting those experiencing homelessness in Sonoma County into permanent homes.


Health protocols in place

We at COTS are taking the risk of COVID-19 infection seriously. With 112 beds in our Mary Isaak Center shelter and non-residents still visiting our campus for Winter Shelter, the risks for our population are great. If you’ve ever visited the MIC for a tour, you know that there are only a few feet between the bunks at our shelters. People dine side by side in our dining room. In our permanent housing programs, residents share common spaces. And those who have experienced homelessness are more likely than the average person to have underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus if they were to catch it.

With that in mind, we circulated safety protocols to staff, volunteers and residents, and are cleaning and disinfecting like crazy! Through it all, we’re staying alert and preparing to make changes if necessary.

Let’s all protect ourselves and each other!


Time for a Family Center refresh. Want to help?

Over the last seven years, the nonprofit Rebuilding Together Petaluma has helped us with free repairs and with renovations large and small. They’ve donated labor and materials valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks to them, we’re able to keep our shelters and five of our shared homes in good repair.

Their next project for us is April 18 when they and a group of volunteers will paint, re-floor, organize and deep clean our Kids First Family Shelter. We are so excited for the chance to make KFFS a cleaner, friendlier and more welcoming place for our families in need!

Rebuilding Together Executive Director Jane Hamilton is still looking for volunteers for April 18. If you’re free, you can complete a volunteer application at rtpetaluma.com.

Many thanks to you and to Jane and her crew!

Sign up to volunteer here

Alphabet Soup

When our clients apply for work, we want to send them out looking sharp! But we don’t have room to store clothing. Many thanks to Alphabet Soup which provides us with vouchers to allow our residents to shop for interview clothing.

If you have clothing to give away, please consider giving it to the Petaluma Educational Foundation’s Alphabet Soup. For more info, please visit alphabetsoupstores.com.


Jazz for COTS!

Don’t miss out on the Second Annual Jazz for COTS benefit being held in Healdsburg on May 9th from 4 to 6 pm.!

The Windsor Jazz Ensemble, a 14 member jazz band, will be playing a tribute to Count Basie. This popular big band has played numerous events and stages including Chateau St. Jean and St. Francis Wineries and The Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club. The event takes place at an intimate indoor/outdoor cafe just south of the Healdsburg Square.

Tickets are $25 and include wine and beer, non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, deserts and of course lots of great jazz! Tamales from The Tamale Factory will be available for sale as well. This event is sure to sell out so get your tickets early!

Tickets are available at jazzforcots.eventbrite.com or by contacting Val Pustorino at saxophonegirl426@gmail.com.


Action Star: John Souza

When you think of the face of COTS, you might think of our CEO, Chuck Fernandez. Or you might think of Diana Morales, who enrolls and takes care of our volunteers.

But residents at our Mary Isaak Center think of our site coordinators, who maintain order and fairness and calm on our first floor.
And, because of his wit and his unflappability, John Souza is frequently the first site coordinator who comes to mind.

John started at COTS as a resident two years ago. He remembers what a relief it was to have someone show him the shelter ropes in a kindly way. He was fresh out of rehab when he arrived, and he was legally blind, unable to see more than two inches in front of his face.

“It was a scary time,” he says. “I just kind of listened and nodded my head a lot and followed advice.”

Now he lives in a shared rental, and he’s regained much of his sight thanks to surgery. “But I remember what it was like,” he says. “I think about it. I keep it mind.”

Site Coordinators have the most hectic and least predictable jobs in our entire agency. They hand out sheets and towels, toothbrushes, floss and shampoo. They answer phones and sign for packages. They welcome visitors and day-users.

But that’s not all.

Our residents are contending with trauma, stress, close quarters, and health issues. That means our Site Coordinators’ duties also include calling ambulances and mediating disagreements. They listen to people’s struggles and offer encouragement. They clean up messes, they communicate concerns to case managers, they remind people about the rules. Sometimes they have to call the police.

“We’re where the action is,” John says.

John has a comic’s rhythm and cadence. Even when he has to enforce a rule or deliver bad news, he knows how to keep things from becoming personal. He knows how to de-escalate contentious situations.

“No one is designed to live in a room with 112 other people. It’s a hard place to live. But I tell people that the longer they’re here, the harder it will get. And then I say, ‘Let’s talk about your housing plan.'”

He loves that the mission at COTS is to get people housed, that every interaction with a staff person revolves around housing.

“You can refocus people with that,” he says. “Does obsessing over what someone said to you get you closer to housing? Does what somebody else is doing get you closer to housing?”

“The rewarding stuff is seeing people find their path,” John says. “That can be finding housing, getting their license, calling their mom. The rewarding stuff is when people use COTS for all it’s worth, when they see the opportunities and take them.”

After an eight-hour-day, John shakes off stress by gardening. He’s transformed his backyard from a sandlot to a floral paradise. He also loves fishing. You may see him out with his rod by the Sheraton. If you do, say “hi.”


Homeless Count

While most of us were enjoying one final REM cycle last Friday, a dedicated band of volunteers visited waterways, freeway overpasses, fields, deserted streets and parking lots. They counted the people who were sleeping or just beginning to stir in their cars or campsites.

The annual point-in-time homeless count takes place across the nation by federal mandate. Most places in the nation completed their counts in January, but Sonoma County delayed so that it could devote its resources to ending the homeless crisis on The Joe Rodota Trail. The tallies from the outdoors count will be added to the tally of people living in shelters.

Many thanks to the 250 volunteers in our county who helped with the count, and a special thanks to the teams who handled the south county.

Working out of COTS’ Mary Isaak Center, the south county effort was made up of 12 teams who covered all parts of the county south of Rohnert Park. Our south county team included 17 people who have been homeless out of doors and who know where to find people. It also included COTS two outreach specialists, Randy Clay and Jeff Schueller.

“Jeff and Randy have been out talking with people for years and months,” says COTS CEO Chuck Fernandez. “They knew where to look.”

The count will be followed by a survey to determine demographic details of those who are living unsheltered. How old are they? Have they served in the military? How did they lose housing? How long have they been homeless? etc.? The more answers we get, the better positioned we are to respond to the need and to access government resources to help us.

Sonoma County goes above and beyond the federal mandate. This year, for the third time running, the county will conduct a phone survey to determine how many people are “housing insecure.” The county started this survey after the 2018 fires. Responses inform policy makers of current and impending needs. In 2019, some 21,000 people in Sonoma County were living with another household.

Stay tuned for the results of the count. Thank you for your concern and support for those who are in our programs or out in the elements. Together, we will end homelessness in Sonoma County.