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,

Village Services Manager Stacie Questoni visiting with a client

Our Pathway to Housing

We now have nine residents in People’s Village (PV). The remaining sixteen units are assembled, and we hope to have all twenty-five units filled by the end of April or early May. So what has worked so far…our successes, and what have been our challenges?

Our residents appreciate having a place to call their own. A place where they feel safe, can lock their door for privacy, get a full night’s sleep, and not worry that someone will steal their belongings, beat them up, or make them move. Instead of worrying where their next meal will come from, where they can shower, use the bathroom, or get access to clean water, all of that is now provided for them. That sense of safety and security allows them to leave PV and go about their chores or responsibilities during the day – their job or their medical appointments. They are now meeting with their case manager to assess their strengths, their needs, address any legal, medical, or mental health support needed, begin to repair their credit and finances, and their housing history and preferences. They know that they can return at the end of the day to a home just as safe and with everything in it, as how they left it in the morning. Being safe and secure is giving them confidence and a sense of independence, something they may not have had before.

And because People’s Village is smaller and more intimate than our shelter or a typical congregate living situation, they feel a sense of belonging and community with the other residents and with our staff, primarily Stacie Questoni, our People’s Village Program Manager, Randy Clay, our Lead Outreach Specialist, and Robin Phoenix, our Director of Shelter Services.

We are also happy to share that there have been no thefts or lost items at People’s Village. So far, so good.

But we’ve also had some challenges. Change is difficult for many of us, especially our residents. They’ve gone from an encampment at Steamer Landing to a Temporary Placement Center for four months, and now to People’s Village. Regardless of how much notice we gave them about the move to PV, and how many times we talked about the move, many just struggled with the change. It’s unsettling, new, different, not familiar, traumatizing, frightening. Some changed their mind and refused to go. Some did not show up at their scheduled move date and time.

Some continue to hoard to the point where their unit is filled with items and becomes a safety and fire risk. Hoarding is common with those experiencing homelessness. When a person has lost everything or everyone close to them, they now want to hold on to everything as a reminder of the past or a hope for their future life – an empty bottle, broken toy, broom, old clothing. The units at PV have limited space, so we are considering PODS as a way to store additional items for the residents.

Some are adjusting to the rules of living at PV. Yes, to maintain some order and discipline, we need rules. Some residents thought that living independently did not mean rules, like mandatory inspections or curfew.

And so all of this change to a new environment, new behavior and skills learned, and expectations takes time and lots of patience, forgiveness, and flexibility. People’s Village is one of our Pathways to Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). Thanks to a wonderful partnership with the City of Petaluma and Burbank Housing, many of these residents will hopefully transition to The Studios at Montero (Governor Newsom’s Project Homekey Program). The skills learned at PV will help make for a smoother transition to the Studios.

That said, let’s be understanding and mindful that going from the streets, a shelter, or even People’s Village to PSH will NOT be easy. After years of living on the streets – under your own rules and independence to living under someone else’s rules or terms – is difficult. They now have to pay whatever bills on time, clean, shop for groceries, and take their keys when they leave (they have no keys on the streets). Leaving the streets or a shelter means abandoning the past and imagining a future, a challenge if one is used to living hour by hour. There is also loneliness as your family and friends may still be on the streets or in the shelter. That guilt may trigger old behaviors. In a way, our residents need to be reconditioned from being on constant alert for police, violence, or constant search for food. All of that can be more challenging than living on the streets.

And with a team like Stacie, Randy, Robin, and many more of our COTS team, we always have hope. Like Robin says, “we just never give up on our clients…never.”

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez