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,

Tiny Homes – A Big Solution

Tiny Homes have been around for a long time. Some define it as a house less than 400 square feet. Many are much smaller – 100 square feet or less. They come in lots of bright colors, styles, shapes, and building materials. Some even have wheels on them. But one thing is for certain – people have lots of opinions about Tiny Homes.

For some who embrace the Tiny Homes lifestyle, it represents a shift in their values – a preference for simplicity; freedom from the many responsibilities of living in and the maintenance required of a large home; environmental consciousness; self-sufficiency; and even saving money. For them, less is more.

But for those experiencing homelessness who have very little, a Tiny Home is about having more – a sense of privacy and security where one can lock their door at night; a sense of dignity, pride, and empowerment of having a place to call home; getting a good night’s sleep without the fear of being beaten or awakened to evacuate the campsite; a place to store their belongings; and a place to be with their loved one and pets. In a Tiny Home or Tiny Homes Village, there are also shared hygiene facilities – bathrooms, showers, washers and dryers, clean water – the human basics we all take for granted. There can also be a community kitchen with refrigerators, cooktops, microwaves or even a meal delivery service.

As COVID is not going away anytime soon, Tiny Homes are even more important for those experiencing homelessness. The mandate from public health and the CDC to shelter in place, social distance, and to maintain proper hygiene is not possible if you don’t have a home. A fundamental necessity of homelessness is the constant search for food, bathrooms, warmth, water, and shelter. That means interacting with others or being in public places. The homeless are often elderly or in poor health, which are two significant risk factors for COVID.

Congregate shelters have been forced to reduce their bed capacity to accommodate social distancing. That means there are fewer people in shelters and thus more on the streets. My guess is that after COVID, it’s unlikely that public health will allow shelters to return to their normal practice of allowing residents to sleep in close proximity. So where are those folks to go? Back on the streets, public parks, and on private property. And as I mentioned in my May Virtual Coffee on Environmental Justice (, the damage that the unsheltered cause to the environment is significant.

So are Tiny Homes the solution to homelessness? They are one temporary, necessary, and big step in addressing our homeless crisis. They are inexpensive and quick to build. And they are part of broader and longer-term strategy to address homelessness that includes building more permanent and affordable housing; having more housing vouchers that allow individuals and families to live in market-rate places; and providing intense wrap-around case management services that includes mental health and substance abuse counseling that help residents stabilize and stay in their home.

Tiny Homes are also where the transformation can begin where residents transition into more permanent housing. Given their empowerment, sense of pride and dignity, and access to many services to help them return to health and wellness, don’t be surprised if the residents in Tiny Homes achieve more success than those in traditional congregate shelters to get permanent housing. It’s where the magic can happen.

And one more very important thing. Housing is a human right – especially if its temporary, tiny, and for people experiencing homelessness.

Progress with our Homeless System of Care

Integrity is about having a sense of what is right and wrong; about using moral and ethical principles in every decision and action; and about doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. Attributes of integrity include empathy, honesty, humility, accountability, and humanity.

I am a member of the Continuum of Care (CoC) Board of Directors. We are charged with overseeing, allocating financial resources, creating a strategy, and working together with other homeless service providers in Sonoma County to end homelessness. We work closely with various County Departments and the Community Development Commission (CDC) on all things homelessness. This is a very big task and one I thought had little chance of success.

But I’ve recently changed my mind…in a good way. Why – because my colleagues on the CoC Board, County Departments, and the CDC all act with integrity. They care, are passionate and committed to ending homelessness, smart, have a sense of urgency, are realistic but not afraid to think big and bold, they hold themselves and each other accountable for results, and are inclusive and respectful of those experiencing homelessness. We have a long way to go – creating a County-wide strategic plan; improving how we communicate with and better inform the public about homelessness; improve our data systems to better track our performance; being willing to try more innovative solutions to homelessness…like Tiny Homes or safe parking; build more affordable homes and access more housing vouchers; and get access to many more financial resources.

But it takes time and patience to do a difficult and important job. And we will get this right. Thank you for hanging in there with us. We will get there.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez