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,

Permanent Supportive Housing

Recently, there have been articles in the newspaper about Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) projects in Sonoma County. Some have been hopeful and were presented as just one of the solutions to homelessness, while others revealed some challenges. The Studios at Montero (Montero), located in Petaluma, is a 60-unit PSH project between the City of Petaluma (City), Burbank Housing (Burbank), and COTS. As a team that works well together, we are very excited about this project for several reasons:

Working from our Strengths – We each have different strengths and expertise necessary for the long-term success of Montero. The City is one of the underwriters and lead sponsor of the project and has made Montero an important element in its Vision and Strategic Plan to end homelessness in Petaluma. Burbank is a nonprofit affordable housing developer with extensive development and property management experience and will be the owner/operator of Montero. And COTS has decades of experience working with those experiencing homeless. We each have different missions that also hold each other accountable and act as a check and balance – Burbank to enforce lease provisions and manage and care for its real estate asset; COTS to provide intense case management services and advocacy for the residents; and both reporting to the City, City Council, and community of our progress and challenges.

Sensible budget process – Besides having a multi-million dollar budget for renovations (capital budget), there is also an annual operating budget that includes specific line items for repair and maintenance, security, pest control, case management, and other expenses. The budget also includes contingencies for unexpected expenses as always happens in construction/renovations, and reserves for future capital improvements like roofs or other major repairs. We also made sure that security costs were realistic and extensive to ensure a safe and stable environment for staff and residents of Montero to thrive. This includes fencing for controlled access to the property to keep out uninvited guests.

Rigorous regulatory requirements – Because Montero is government funded, the conversion of this former motel to PSH will undergo a strict municipal permitting process. There are code requirements for fire safety (sprinklers to be installed); ventilation that requires fresh air intake with a separate exhaust that will prevent mold and dampness issues; PG&E metering requirements; requirements under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) to ensure minimal negative impact to the environment; inspections during the renovation process, and more. There will be no tolerance for cutting of any corners. In short, The Studios at Montero will have strong oversight and monitoring by three different agencies with checks and balances and accountabilities to ensure its success.

My colleague homeless service providers in Sonoma County are consummate professionals, are very competent, and have huge hearts. An admirable blend of head and heart. They move forward, trailblaze, and innovate, always with the intent of doing good. It’s our purpose, our passion, our goal, and the risk we are willing to take to better serve those experiencing homelessness. Most of the time we succeed. Sometimes, however, we don’t accomplish what we intended. It’s not for a lack of trying and we shouldn’t stop. And that works for me.

We’re just about at shelter capacity!

For the past month or so, we’ve consistently filled about 94% of our shelter beds on any given night. That means of the 80 beds on the first floor (main shelter area), 75 of the beds are filled. This is amazing given that the weather is warming up and many usually prefer to stay outside. It’s even more amazing as that pesky COVID is alive and ever lurking, and we still require masking and practice safety and health precautions. That on top of all the talk of people not wanting to be in a congregate type setting.

All the kudos and gratitude go to our shelter, kitchen, and facilities team – Chris, Christina, Nichole, Jesse, Chelsea, Dario, Eileen, Fionn, Randy, Stacie, shelter services Director Robin Phoenix, Chef Janin, Antoine, Jack, Dana, Robert, Sean, Facilities Director John McEntee, and our fabulous nurse Annie Nicol. This shelter team is full of fearless leaders that are making this happen.

CEO Search

I promised to keep you updated on our search for the next CEO to lead COTS. Well…we’ve formed a CEO Search Committee comprised of six board members and two staff (myself and Chief Personnel Officer Cat Higgins). We sought five bids from search organizations and two responded. The Committee recommended to the full Board of Directors and the Board approved Robert Half Executive Search (RH) to lead the search. We are currently finalizing the CEO Position Description before RH conducts their national search. I promise to keep you updated with every Virtual Coffee.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez