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).

My best,

Climate Change and Homelessness

The City of Petaluma’s Climate Action Commission was established in 2019 to address and elevate climate issues to the City’s highest priority. Climate change and mitigation is at the center of the City’s goal setting, creation of policies and procedures, and allocation of resources. With drought, soaring temperatures, and seasonal fires, climate change is real and the Commission is the right thing to do.

In its inspiring document, Climate Emergency Framework, one of the Commission’s Values is the creation of Social and Ecosystem Resilience Together. That means a holistic thinking that aligns sustainable economies with thriving ecologies including a reduction of pollutants and toxins, restoration of ecosystems, improvement in public health, community cohesion, and well-being. The Framework acknowledges that “frontline and marginalized communities are already disproportionately negatively affected by climate change.” The disproportionately affected include those experiencing homelessness.

So what is COTS doing to create Social and Ecosystem Resilience Together? Lots. But first, let me share some numbers as context.

At the Mary Isaak Center, we: have 80 regular shelter beds; 6 beds for homeless patients who are discharged from the hospital and need a place to recover; 12 beds in our supportive housing program; serve 4,500 meals per month on average; work with up to 110 volunteers per month as we come out of COVID; and have 45 employees. This is a lot of human activity that uses considerable energy and water.

At the Mary Isaak Center, we: replaced all lights with energy efficient LED lights; are investing $30,000 in new Energy Star Certified washers and dryers that use 25% less energy and 33% less water; installed touch-less water faucets in all bathrooms, low-flow water faucets in the kitchen, and low-flow shower heads in the showers; replaced the kitchen dishwasher with a steamer that uses 75% less water; reduced our total water usage from a high of 19,387 cubic feet per month in 2019 to 11,376 cubic feet per month in 2021 for a 41% reduction; replaced our gas powered leaf blower and lawn mowers with battery-powered units; partner with Protein Products in Petaluma to take all food waste/scraps to create protein products for animals; and recycle all cardboard, plastics, cans, and glass.

We are also having active conversation about a COTS campus expansion that could include safe parking, sanctioned encampments, even tiny homes. As mentioned in my May Virtual Coffee about environmental justice, we know the damage that encampments can do to the natural habitats and ecosystems. We believe that moving the unsheltered to a safe and dignified area where they also have access to clean water, sanitation, bathrooms and showers, laundry facilities, and get access to much needed medical and social services could provide for a safe and dignified life. We want to be good stewards of our environment, improve our ecological health, be an example for climate mitigation for other shelters, while also caring for the unsheltered with all the dignity, respect, and safety they deserve.

Petaluma Climate Action Commissioner Ned Orrett said, “the earth is a marvelously interconnected living system.” The Framework also said that “climate equity and environmental justice help heal systemic social injustices and ensures all community groups have the resources to use non-polluting energy systems and live in environmentally healthy communities.” Our goal at COTS is to maximize opportunities for all unsheltered and sheltered people to live in clean and healthy environments that protect against the impacts of climate change and environmental pollutants. It is the right thing to do.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez