Each month, COTS staff are proud to share news of our programs, our community, and our clients as they work towards permanent housing. Thank you for reading and for supporting our work to end homelessness in Sonoma County!

Permanent housing and support for sobriety

We’re renting yet another house! This one comes to us courtesy of The Church of the Oaks in Cotati. It’s the old parsonage next door to the church, and it’s a perfect fit for our Integrity Housing program.

This house will be part of COTS’ newly announced Pathways Program and will be reserved for people who wish to live without drugs or alcohol. Luckily, to help them in their efforts, the Church of the Oaks hosts 20-some recovery meetings each week—under normal, pre-pandemic circumstances, that is. They also provide a built-in community should residents want it. Once things open up, our tenants can choose to attend regular concerts and get-togethers in the community hall.

Best of all, thanks to the generosity of the Church of the Oaks, tenants’ rent will be affordable. And thanks to your support, our case manager Debbie Robbins will connect regularly with tenants to help them navigate any problems they encounter with work, benefits, health or shared housing.

The 1920s-era house has quite a story, according to minister, property manager and lead singer of the band Take Your Medicine, Patrick McCarty. The congregation bought it for a song in the 1950s when it was situated in the path of the soon-to-be-built freeway. The congregation arranged to move the house—but they didn’t act soon enough. The freeway had already gone up over the road to the church and there wasn’t room underneath it to move a two-story house. So, church members lopped the top story off and slapped the roof back on. Voila, they had a one-story parsonage.

Minister McCarty and his fellow congregants have gone above and beyond to brighten up the home and make it a welcoming space. We’re delighted with the fresh paint, new windows and updated fixtures.

The Church of the Oaks is the oldest building in Cotati. The congregation is small but active, especially in times of crisis. They were generous donors, volunteers, and conveners during the fires, and they regularly share their good fortune with local nonprofits, including COTS. When McCarty brought the idea of renting to COTS to his board, the decision was swift and enthusiastic.

With the new house added to our inventory, we’ll be serving over 70 people in our Integrity Housing program!

Pictured above: Church of the Oaks board members Susan Johnson (top) and Fletcher Clover (bottom) fixing up our new Pathways house.

There’s no place like home

“You unpack, Mom. I’m gonna take it all in!”

Let’s celebrate with one of the families leaving our shelter for a home of their own!

Happy Birthday, Marge!

Our favorite summer birthday is volunteer Marge Popp’s. We can’t sing her “Happy Birthday” as a group this year, but we can shower her with birthday love and lemon cake.

Pictured: Marge’s birthday celebration last year at Mary’s Table

Lawyering Up!

Thanks to Sonoma County Legal Aid, we have a lawyer on our side. Asya Sorokurs is on call four days a week to help our clients address a myriad of legal issues. She’ll help with credit repair, housing issues, expungements, family law and a host of other issues. Asya is available to help our homeless prevention clients and those who are in our shelter and permanent housing programs. Many thanks to Asya and to Sonoma County Legal Aid Executive Director Ronit Rubinoff who approached us about this opportunity.

Strength in numbers

We’ve always placed a high value on collecting and analyzing program data. That’s because we have a responsibility to our clients and to you, our supporters, to be effective, efficient, and transparent. Most of all, we have a responsibility to help people find and keep housing. Data helps us to build on the things that work and to examine where approaches fall short.

And with the hire of Jaime Murillo Mena, our data collection and analysis jumped light years. We count ourselves lucky to have this local whiz kid on our team.

You might have met Jaime before, while he was working behind the counter at his parents’ Petaluma restaurant, Taqueria Los Potrillos. Or you might have seen his name as part of Tech High’s first graduating class. He was in another first category that year: first member of his family to graduate from high school. And he didn’t stop there. He went on to college, and after that, Jaime earned a master’s from UC San Diego in Global Policy and Strategy. Grad school is where he honed his data skills. His thesis project looked at school and household resourcing in Jalisco and their impact and implications on both sides of our border.

Now 27, he’s back in Sonoma County, helping COTS.

Good data can be the precursor to great things, Jaime says. When we can show clients how other people succeed, they’re more hopeful and have more confidence to try themselves. When we can show case managers how valuable their efforts are, they want to do more. When our funders see our effectiveness, they want to be part of our efforts.

“Having a data-driven culture doesn’t mean being bogged down by math and numbers. Those are the tools to help us shape our programs and tell our stories,” Jaime says.

He trained as a FEMA disaster counselor and uses the skills he learned in that program while working with our case managers, the end users of our data collection system. “No one goes into case management because they love data entry. No, it’s because they love working with people. My job is to meet them where they’re at. Sometimes that means doing training in bite-sized bits. I make myself available in whatever way works,” Jaime says.

Kiera Stewart, COTS Director of Grants, says “Jaime has brought so much to the team. In the four months he’s been here, he’s really helped us better translate the great work our case managers do into measurable data that funders can get behind. We’re excited about having improved methods to evaluate and reflect the true impact of COTS services in our community. He also has a great sense of humor and a tireless, can-do attitude, so working with him is such a positive experience.”

Jaime sees his life’s work as increasing equity and opportunity. “I come from a family of immigrants who came here with nothing to live the American dream,” Jaime says. “Now, I want to provide back to that community that helped my family when we were in need and starting a life in Sonoma County.”

Using your gifts well

Our Rapid Re-Housing is a powerhouse. Since July of 2018, the program has helped 449 people, including 149 children, regain and maintain permanent housing.

The work continues. But, instead of being headquartered in Santa Rosa, we have relocated all our staff to our Petaluma offices at the Mary Isaak Center.

We’re closing the Laure Reichek Housing Hub a year ahead of our original plans. We’re making the move for a few reasons, all of them having to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, in the face of the uncertainty that this pandemic brings, we need to reduce expenses. We don’t know how long our community and our nation will be in crisis. No matter how long it lasts, we will be using the support you provide us to help people find and keep housing.

Second, the lessons we’ve learned and the modifications we’ve made to other programs allow us to make this move.  Our employees who don’t work directly with clients are working from home, freeing up office real estate. Our programs staff and clients have become experts about communicating electronically. Since the shut-down in March, we had only about a dozen clients need to visit our Santa Rosa office.

Most of our Rapid Re-Housing clients do find housing north of Petaluma. We’ve done the math, and it’s better to add a few more miles to our housing locator/inspector’s mileage log than it is to rent office space in Santa Rosa. Right now, our case managers are providing after care and support over the phone and at an appropriate outdoors social distance. Under normal circumstances, it’s more convenient for clients to have case managers come to their homes or to a nearby coffee shop than it is for the clients to come into an office.

Many thanks to a consortium of funders, including The Tipping Point Community Emergency Relief Fund; the North Bay Fire Relief Fund (a partnership of the Press Democrat, Senator Mike McGuire, and Redwood Credit Union); the County of Sonoma and many individuals, community groups and businesses who helped us launch the Laure Reichek Housing Hub.

COVID updates

Many thanks to our residents and staff who are scrupulous about following public health recommendations and mandates. Everyone is social distancing and wearing masks, and we remain COVID-free at all our facilities.

We’d like to introduce our newest tools: electro-static sanitizers that sanitize surfaces in seconds. The sprayers shoot out a mist of ionized sanitizer that disinfects surfaces better than the spray bottle and rag method does. Plus, as COTS CFO David Tausheck shows, they’re a lot of fun to operate.

Many thanks to all of you who’ve been so steadfast in your support during this challenging time!

Pictured: (Left) Amber Reed, manager of Copperfield’s Petaluma, with a big delivery of books for COTS. (Right) Shelter Manager Robin Phoenix, Engagement Specialist Diana Morales, and Shelter Services Assistant Manager Stacie Questoni accepting the bounty.

New Books!

So many thanks to Copperfield’s Books!

The store is donating hundreds of books for children and adults to COTS’ shelters. They’re all advance copies, new titles that will keep our residents up to date on the hottest reads.

Patty Norman, who runs the children’s book section for Copperfield’s recommends that parents read books and series along with their children. “Kids love to talk about books, “Patty says. “They get to be the expert. It’s a chance for families to make a connection that’s not about homework or chores.”

Copperfield’s is one of COTS’ earliest supporters. In fact, over 30 years ago, owner Dan Jaffe used to allow us to store all our supplies and do office work in the Copperfield’s basement. We are grateful for over three decades of support.

And a tome’s worth of thanks to the Free Bookmobile of Sonoma County, which also donated a treasure trove of books. Sadly, COVID-19 means an end to people browsing in their tiny library on wheels, and they are wrapping up operations. We will miss the bookmobile’s regular visits to our shelter sites and the passion with which the bookmobile team promoted reading and engagement. We wish all involved the very best of luck.