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.

Please stay safe,

Mitigating COVID-19

There is nothing more important in our community today than fighting the spread of COVID-19 and keeping our world safe. Since our March Virtual Coffee, much has changed at COTS to continue mitigation of the spread of COVID.

Because of social distancing requirements from the state, we’ve reduced the capacity of our shelter by 50% – from 112 people to 56. People sleeping in our dorm must be six feet apart. We made the reduction slowly over the last five weeks through attrition and by not admitting any new clients. In the dining room, only one shelter resident eats at a table and there are no more than 12 people eating in the dining room at one time. No one is allowed to eat unless they wash their hands at a portable hand washing station in the dining room. Residents are served their meal when they sit versus going through a food line. Once the resident has finished eating, their table and chair are sprayed with a disinfectant before the next person sits to eat. Non-shelter people coming for a meal are given a “to go” meal box from a back door and are not allowed in the dining room.

Case management with our residents continues but only from a six-foot distance or over the phone. We also continue to provide health care and now mental health counseling but only through telemedicine and teletherapy.

All residents and staff must wear face masks. No one is allowed on the shelter campus unless they have a mask. We’ve given out masks and our clients, for many reasons, often lose them. So we record who gets a mask as they are in limited supply.

We continue to follow our virus protection cleaning protocols by mopping floors, cleaning the bathrooms, and wiping flat surfaces and door handles multiple times per day. This is required on the first two floors where the work with clients happens and on the third floor that houses administrative staff.

We also worked with the Homeless Emergency Operations Center in Santa Rosa to place three port-a-potties with hand washing stations at high homeless areas in Petaluma. And thanks to state funding, we sent six residents to a motel in Santa Rosa that met the entry requirement of over age 65 and or with serious underlying medical conditions.

We also had a small group of residents and staff tested for the virus. Thankfully, all tested negative.

We have a long way to go before we can even think about relaxing. In the meantime, we will keep you updated as we continue to make improvements to keep everyone safe.

Gratitude Pay

Starting on April 12 and going through June 6, we are paying “Gratitude Pay” to those COTS staff who have direct day to day contact with those experiencing homelessness – at our Mary Isaak Shelter, our Kids First and Family Shelter, and our Housing Programs at Vida Nueva and our Santa Rosa Hub. Some call it Hazard Pay but we prefer Gratitude Pay to express just how grateful we are for people showing up and risking their health to serve a very vulnerable population.

This was made possible through three very generous donors with big hearts that truly care for our staff and those we serve. Thank you very much to those special donors who made this possible.

And thanks to those same three donors, we are also able to provide each staff at COTS (all forty-one of us) three one-hour phone sessions with Shadi Shamshavari, founder of Human Remedy in Petaluma. Shadi is a highly trained professional in organization and relationship systems coaching. Some of our staff have worked with Shadi to help them move through challenges they are facing. She creates a safe, warm, and trusting atmosphere and given the challenges we are all experiencing from COVID-related isolation, stresses, or working from home, having someone other than a peer to talk through things can be helpful.

There are many selfless and tireless front line and first responder people working to keep our community safe and healthy – medical, law enforcement and fire, those feeding the hungry, delivering our mail, keeping our stores stocked with essential supplies, and so many more. Our staff at COTS are also front line serving a very vulnerable population – the homeless. Thank you everyone and thank you COTS staff for showing up every day. We are grateful to you.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez