Chuck's Virtual Coffee - May 1, 2019

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). In the Business portion, I will share the nuts and bolts of what we do to serve the homeless – our successes and our challenges. In the Mission Moment, I will share stories about our clients and our wonderful staff who make it all happen. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to your feedback.

All my best,
Chuck

Program Funding

I’m often asked how much funding we get from the government, foundations and private donations. In 2018, about 17% of our revenue came from government grants while 71% came from private donations and foundations. The remaining comes from contracted services, rental income, and what we call in-kind contributions including donated food, supplies or even the time our wonderful volunteers spend helping COTS.

In the past several weeks, you’ve likely read in the newspaper how Sonoma County was in the process of approving funding for homeless services. This funding will support capital improvements to shelters, the expansion of available housing, and operating costs for the various homeless programs. Yesterday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved $14M for those expenses.

Prior to this approval, the County received over 80 applications from various homeless services agencies requesting a total of $32 million in funding. There is never enough money, so it is difficult to determine who gets what and why and how Sonoma County can best achieve our goal of ending homelessness. It is estimated that the $14 million approved by the county will reduce homelessness by 20%, support development of 172 new permanent supportive housing units and rehabilitate 104 existing units; provide intensive services to 257 chronically homeless people; support a tiny homes pilot project; and more.

Of the available $14 million, COTS received about $1.3 million – over 80% of the funds we requested. This will go toward our Diversion Program to keep people out of homelessness; support for daily operations of the Mary Isaak Shelter; our housing programs; capital funds to improve the Mary Isaak and Kids First Family Shelters; and a Winter Shelter beginning in December 2019 to get people out of the cold during the rainy season. Especially here in Petaluma, where we’ve seen so many people die alone in the outdoors, Winter Shelter funding is a godsend.

In the end, the process for review and awarding the grants was fair, unbiased, and done with integrity and professionalism. Those who reviewed and scored each grant application took their roles very seriously and responsibly. We are truly grateful for the process and what we received.

Mission Moment – Our Landlords

The Housing First model is about getting our homeless clients in housing as soon as possible and then providing “wrap around” services that help them succeed, including case management and mental health counseling. Our clients all have different needs, so we offer a variety of housing programs, each offering a different level of services. One of these programs is called Integrity Housing, in which COTS master-leases or owns houses and then rents available rooms to individuals or families. The cost of renting an individual room in a house is significantly less than a market-rate unit, thus more affordable for our clients. Integrity Housing is one of the ways we utilize existing housing stock to provide opportunities to our clients.

Thanks to COTS’ partnering landlords, we have over 13 houses and 50 rentable rooms. We’ve rented to hundreds of people – including families and children – thanks to these generous and warm-hearted landlords. Our Property Management Department does monthly inspections, repairs and maintenance, helps tenants move in and out, and takes care of any issues with the tenants. Our landlords entrust in us their very precious investment and we hold ourselves accountable to take care of that asset as if it were our own.

Claire and John Werner currently rent one house to COTS and are adding a second to our Integrity Housing portfolio because they are so happy with the experience they’ve had working with us. Claire said, “we are helping people get back to where they belong – in a home.” She also said that, “I have to use [the properties] in a way that’s good for my family, but the beauty of these programs is I can make it good for another family too.” The fact that Claire and John can count on COTS to pay the rent on time and do regular inspections and maintenance means that they can forgo the cost of a property manager and pass the savings on to our clients.

Thank you, Claire, John, and all of our wonderful landlords who make it possible for people to live their lives with dignity and respect.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Rachell

“My job,” says Rachell Salyer, “is to help people turn an overwhelming beast into a bunch of tiny monsters that we can slay one at a time.”

The beast: finding and keeping rental housing in this crazy market.

The monsters: low income, troubled credit, low-wage employment, lack of inventory, poor health, crazy competition, high rents, lack of knowledge or time or confidence or childcare or—you name it!

Rachell works at our Laure Reichek Housing Hub in Santa Rosa as a Housing Navigator in one of our Rapid Re-Housing programs—this one, community-funded to provide short-term financial assistance and services to the first and second wave victims of the 2017 fires. Since July 1, she’s helped house 94 people, 27 of them children.  One hundred percent of her participants have remained in their housing after COTS’ rental assistance ended. And she’s well on track to house at least 33 more people by July 1, the target we set with our funders.

How does she do it?

Empathy and respect are her first tools, she’ll tell you.

Rachell remembers a time in her own life when she needed help. “I remember how people treated me. And it wasn’t good,” she says, her eyes steely at the memory. “I make an active choice every day never to do that to anyone.”

“I’m honest with them about the state of affairs in Sonoma County, the challenges that they’re facing,” she says. “I acknowledge how hard they’re working and how hard they’re going to have to keep working. I grew up here. This situation is not normal.”

Housing that the client can keep after COTS’ support ends is going to look different for everyone. One large family might need a house, another might be willing to squeeze into a one-bedroom apartment. Another participant might know that shared housing is the only affordable, long-term solution that will work.

“The plan has to be something they come up with themselves and that they believe they can sustain,” Rachell says. Her role is to help clients analyze their options, and to give them tools, encouragement and feedback.

Discussions nearly always start with money. Of necessity, most of her clients are expert at living frugally, but many of them need help anticipating expenses that come up irregularly; once they’ve crunched the numbers, most decide they need to increase their income so that they’ll be able to pay their rent once COTS’ time-limited assistance ends.

“We break things down into steps,” Rachell says. “First, I ask them what kind of work they want to do, what kind of income they want to earn. We look at the cost of living. We look at what the experts say.”

She sticks with her clients every step of the way. Her experiences with a young man we’ll call “Robert” illustrate the point. Robert’s Santa Rosa rental burned in the fires and he was living in a FEMA trailer. He kept his job, working for a local nonprofit, doing work he’s passionate about, but he couldn’t find or afford a new rental. He and Rachell talked about his professional goals. He wanted to stay with his employer because he loves the agency’s mission, but he had to make more money.

Rachell helped him update his resume, and along the way, helped him recognize all the skills he’d developed during his career. She sat down him for mock interviews, in which she helped him discover an authoritative, confident voice through which to express his passion for his work. When he got a promotion and a $3 per hour raise, she celebrated with him and helped him plan how he’d put that additional money to work and how he’d position himself to earn even more. He’s in a shared rental now, something he can afford.

“You have to celebrate every achievement along the way,” Rachell says. “You can’t wait. You have to let people know you see them, you see how hard they’re working.”

It’s also important not to kick people when they’re down. “If someone fails, the last thing they need is me telling them. They are fully aware,” Rachell says. Instead, she listens when people face set-backs. “I let them reflect on what happened, and I give them my perspective. I remind them of all the things they’ve done for themselves.  Then, we talk about what’s holding them back and how they want to address it.”

She keeps paperwork to a minimum when she’s with clients. “I want them to know they’re my priority. They have my attention.” That means doing notes and follow-up assignments immediately after a meeting.

Rachell’s supervisor Emily Quig credit Rachell with creating administrative and application systems that allow us to put clients first while still fulfilling our reporting obligations. “She has a great balance of head and heart.”

The beauty of the Rapid Re-Housing program is its flexibility, Rachell says. About 25 percent of the clients don’t need much beyond a couple of meetings, a few text messages and a deposit or a small amount of rental assistance. “I don’t need to make them jump through unnecessary hoops. But I can also be there for people who need more. I can meet with people at their homes or in a coffee shop or park or in our office—whatever they’re most comfortable with.”

“I get thanked a lot,” Rachell says, “and that’s nice, but I always remind people that they did the work. I gave them tools, but they used them.”


Diversion

Linda knows better than anyone that shelter should be a last resort.

That’s because it was her last resort two years ago for five months while she recovered from emergency brain surgery.

Now, she works as a COTS’ Diversion Specialist, helping people avoid the disruption of homelessness and shelter living.  “I was treated well when I stayed here,” Linda says. “I got the help I needed, but there’s not much sleeping, not much rest in a shelter. You always feel off balance.”

She does whatever it takes to help people regain their balance in housing.  For some, it’s as simple as pointing them to a program that will help them pay their delinquent utility bill; others may need help with paperwork or a rental deposit. But many others need more assistance.

Take the 23-year-old woman who was living in a car with her husband and her daughters, ages 2 and 3. Study after study shows that homelessness—especially if it’s prolonged—can stunt children’s development. “The husband was working. They had a great income, they wanted to provide a home,” Linda says. “But they had bad credit.”

Linda helped the couple make targeted payments to improve their credit in a landlord’s eyes, and then, because they’d spent their reserves on credit repair, she lined them up with a program to help them cover their rental deposit. The family moved to an apartment of their own shortly before the New Year.

For some people, Linda has to be a lion. Recently, a mom got in touch with Linda because she’d gotten two months behind on her rent. Her daughter has Cystic Fibrosis and the mom had had to miss work to help her manage her illness.

In the nick of time, Linda found a foundation that could potentially help. But with only days left until the duo would lose their housing, the foundation’s administrative staff weren’t hopeful that a request could be approved and finalized in time. Linda turned to Google and found a way to get in touch with officers and leadership staff who authorized immediate assistance. The mom has found a teaching job and should be able to cover her rent from now on.

“There are a lot of sick people who need help,” Linda says. “They’re tired. They need advocates.”


COTS' Annual Hops for Homes

Music, food and good company—Hops for Homes on April 23 has you covered.

But that’s not all!

You can shop early for the holidays—for all of them for the next decade—at our silent auction. Or you could win big in our raffle.

Buy Tickets Now

Here’s a list of our offerings (come back soon for updates). Many thanks to all our donors!

 

Food and other finer things

Learn to make a special dish at the renowned Tutti Benvenuti Cooking School—or just use your gift certificate to let someone else cook for you!

Learn some new recipes with a deluxe cookbook from Copperfield’s.

Petaluma Market offers a gorgeous basket of their finest wares.

Dine in style with gift certificates from Lunchette; Pongo’s; Stockhome; Sugo Trattoria; Wild Goat Bistro; and Café Zazzle.

 

Family Fun

Take the kids and their friends to the Sonoma County Fair. Animals, rides, crazy food, live music, talent shows and expositions!

Try Ziplining, courtesy of Sonoma Canopy Tours.

Take the kids to bounce at Rebounderz! Pro tip: parents can hang out on the balcony, above the hubbub. There’s free wifi and the seats are comfortable.

 

Gardening

A Sustainability basket from the Petaluma Seed Bank will give you a jumpstart on your garden and your sustainable life style.

Enjoy a gift certificate and the scenery at the lovely Cottage Gardens.

Brush up on your gardening techniques, thanks to a book from Copperfield’s.

 

Pampering and shopping

Kit Lofroos gives the best massages in all of Petaluma. See for yourself with a gift certificate for a relaxing and restorative massage.

KM Herbals donated oodles of natural lotions, soaps and potions.

McEvoy Ranch did the same—and they added wine.

Nan Winters, the fashionista of Kentucky Street, donated a gift certificate.

Hollingsworth Jewelry’s been voted the best jewelry store for ten years running. You can find out why when you win their gift certificate, good for merchandise or jewelry repairs.

Jenny from Spiral Jewelry donated one of her lovely designs, a silver necklace with an oblong pendant. She also donated a gift certificate.

Fitness Sampler

In a fitness rut? Change things up with our fitness sampler, featuring: a set of passes to Renew Yoga; a set of passes to Crossfit 38 Degrees North; a month’s membership to Sonoma Fit; and passes to Vertex Climbing Center. We’ll round that out with a few Camelbak accessories.

 

Art and Decor

We have so many beautiful things made by so many wonderful artists and craftspeople.

COTS founder Laure Reichek sells her crochet work in a Point Reyes boutique. She held some back for COTS, though. At Lagunitas, we’ll have some of her finest work available: a shawl, hats, baskets, and baby wraps.

Renowned local ceramist Nuala Creed provided a lovely vase in the shape of a woman with garlands of flowers and birds in her hair.

Robert Carson donated an elegant pendant lamp upcycled from industrial bobs and bits.

Our own Quilters for COTS have collaborated on a dramatic quilt that would be the focal point of any room.

The Bird Houses for COTS crew has also been busy, creating one-of-a-kind birdhouses for your balcony or patio.

Marisa’s Fantasy is not just about Christmas. The proprietor donated a lovely all-season vase and paper napkins.

 

Theater and Music

Get out of the house!

The Green Music Center donated four ticket to see the world-acclaimed Kronos Quartet.

We have theater tickets from Marin Theater Company, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Cinnabar Theater, and Berkeley Rep.

We have tickets and tees from the Cotati Accordion Festival.

And, we have tickets to Santa Rosa’s Laugh Cellar.

 

Travel

Stay close to home with a certificate to stay at KOA, or travel east for a one night stay for two at the River Terrace Inn in Napa.

 

Wine, Beer and More!

Wine country has been generous.

Sonoma Portworks offers a gift certificate.

Jason Baker, the wine-maker who wowed at our Big Thanks event in October, has provide more of his miraculous merlot.

Lagunitas is donating a lovely prize as is Hen House Brewery.

For those of you who like to travel to the terroir, you could win a wine tasting at the Deerfield Ranch winemaker’s home or a tour and tasting at Castello di Amorosa.

Additional Donors:

Pete Brown
Bill Gabbert
Judy Tuhtan
Anita Smull

Buy Tickets Now

James's story

James joined the Marines at 17. “I was mad at everyone,” he says, “and I just wanted to get away.”

He’d lost his Dad four years earlier. James was himself in intensive care at the time, after having been hit by a drunk driver. He didn’t get to see his Dad before he died. “I was in a hospital in Novato and he was in a hospital in San Francisco. I went the bad way after that,” he says.

While in the Marines, James suffered a sexual assault. Admitting victimization in the armed forces isn’t an easy thing today. But it was unthinkable in the 1980s. As a result of the trauma he couldn’t acknowledge, James’ on-the-job performance suffered. He left the service without an honorable discharge--and, therefore, without access to many of the services that could potentially help him.

James’ life after that was a seesaw. He’d muscle through long chapters of stability and prosperity. A jack of all trades, he’s at home in a restaurant kitchen, a hospital, or a construction site, and he did well at all his jobs for a time. But he was also contending with undiagnosed depression and panic and anxiety attacks. Drugs helped, but they also made him homeless several times. “Pretty soon, I’d be out there ripping and roaring in the bushes,” he says. “It was inevitable.”

In his 40s and 50s, he thought he had it licked. He had his own apartment, good jobs, and savings. He saw his Mom regularly and helped her out around the house.

But while he was away on a construction site, his Mom died. Once again, a parent died without a farewell. James’ sister and best friend died shortly after and James fell apart.

He was camping in the bushes around the Mary Isaak Center, coming in for lunch. “[Shelter Manager] Silvia told me how to get a bed,” James said. But she and James’ Housing Navigator Pamela didn’t let him stay in that bed too long. “I woke up in my bunk one day and they were there, telling me it was time to go to treatment.”

“I went because I knew them and trusted them,” James says. “I also knew that I just didn’t have another run in me.”

After James returned from treatment, Pamela helped him find housing in Petaluma in a house dedicated to homeless veterans. “I see Pam every week. She comes out to the house to check in. It keeps me connected.” Pam helped him connect with a therapist which is proving helpful. He also values the connection he’s made with Annie Nichol, the Petaluma Heath Care Center nurse practitioner headquartered at the Mary Isaak Center.

He’s taken on a leadership role in the local recovery community “which helps a lot. It’s good to be busy and helpful,” he says. Pamela encouraged him to take care of his health, so three days a week, James joins a roomful of women for a kickboxing class. “In a lot of ways, this has been the most powerful part of my recovery,” he says.


Angela's Story

The light’s best in the kitchen, so Angela’s cello is set up there, the sheet music propped on a painter’s easel next to the fridge, ready for her to bow through a few measures every day. Over the holidays, she and her brother gave an impromptu concert for their mom, Angela’s first in many years.

Music was the through line of her childhood, and it feels good to return to it after many years away.

What else feels good?

Feeling. Feeling everything that life throws her way.

But that’s new. “For most of my life I tried to avoid it,” Angela says. “That’s why I didn’t like sobriety. Stub your toe, feel the pain. Do something stupid, feel the pain. That was the last thing I wanted.”

Feelings of embarrassment and disgrace stalked her. She wasn’t the academic success her brother was. She cringed thinking of her parents’ disappointment. “I ground that relationship with my parents to nothing,” she says. Her romantic partnerships ended badly, in ways that made her feel devalued. Drugs were the cure for shame and discontent, but also the cause, and her days were a circle of discomfort and escape, panic and escape, anxiety and escape.

“I used to dream that there would be a hippie colony of women who would rescue me, beam me away to a sunny hill—just adopt me and solve all my problems.”

No magical hippies arrived, but when she lost her daughter to the child welfare system, a colony of other helpers began arriving, one by one.

The first was a woman who told her about treatment. “I just met her randomly the day after it happened, when I was a mess. Her name was ‘Angela,’ too, and she told me about a program. The next day, I was enrolled in residential treatment. In two weeks, I was visiting with my daughter. That woman was an angel in my life. I couldn’t have survived if I’d lost Christine.”

Post-treatment, and reunited with Cristine, Angela moved to COTS’ transitional housing and landed eventually in a permanent home--in an affordable apartment complex where COTS provides supportive services designed to help tenants retain their housing for themselves and their children.

“I wouldn’t be here in this apartment without Jim, my case manager in transitional housing. I wasn’t feeling confident, and he was determined for me. I needed that push then to even apply. I don’t know where we’d be without him.”

The next helper was at the new apartment complex. Copper was the first of several COTS-provided advocates Angela’s worked with over the years.

“She taught me to be gentle with myself,” Angela says. Copper shared research on how difficult childhood experiences often correlate with risky behaviors in adulthood. “She helped me make sense of my past. Things started clicking.” Copper also helped Angela develop coping skills. Angela’s apartment is full of reminders of those skills—a poster here, a set of stones there, a painting there, written reminders on the fridge.

After Copper left, Angela relapsed. “I was keeping it together at work. I thought I could have it all. I thought I could do it under the radar. Until I couldn’t,” she says. That brought her to her next helper, Copper’s replacement, COTS advocate Tisha.

“Tisha knew something was wrong, and she kept asking me to come in and talk with her. Finally, I did.” Angela realized she needed help if she wanted to provide stability for Christine. Tisha helped her arrange to go back to the treatment program she’d completed years before.

Another helper—Angela’s mom—stepped up then. “’We need to talk about your life. And you’re not going to like it,’ my mom told me,” Angela says with a laugh. Her mom took in Christine, enabling Angela to spend three months in treatment. Her mom also helped with rent, ensuring that Angela and Christine would be able to keep their apartment.

“I filed my taxes and paid her back with the return as soon as I got home,” Angela says. “She gave me a huge gift, but I vowed it was for the last time.”

Her biggest helper was herself. “Ultimately, I had to want it for myself. And I did. I had had enough. I remembered back to this judge. She demanded that I ‘live in transparency’—no lies. And that was what I finally wanted. That was how I wanted to raise Christine.”

Two years later, Angela is still sober and, thanks to the suggestion of another helper, Tisha’s replacement Melissa, she left behind a low-skills job for something she loves. “Melissa suggested I do an informational interview at a treatment center.”

That interview resulted in a career. Melissa helps people navigate the enrollment process at the center and has a small and growing counseling case load herself.

The job is full of surprises—or, rather, Angela finds herself on the job to be full of surprises. “I remember what it’s like, what it felt like to need help and not know how to get it. I don’t want to leave someone with the idea that no one cares. Somebody better care. Somebody better be listening. “

“I used to be really reactive. I hated to feel judged,” Angela says. But now, even during the most difficult conversations with stressed-out people, she keeps her cool and her kindness. “Sometimes, I listen to myself, and I’m like, ‘Who am I right now? Who’s talking?’” Angela says.

“I do the work every day that I know is meant for me,” she says. “I never thought much about my potential. Now, I’m interested!”

Angela now has a group of women friends who, like her, are in recovery. “They’re not the shiny-halo hippies I wished for way back when. They’ve been through it. They’re like soldiers to me.”

But she still treasures her relationship with Melissa. “I can walk down to the office and say, ‘I need to check in,’” she says. Conversation can be about a new goal or an after-school opportunity or an issue with neighbors. It can also be about feelings. They crop up again and again and they still feel new. It’s still good to have someone’s witness and support to go through them, Angela says.

Recovering from homelessness “takes a community,” she believes. “You have to leave room for people to get the support they need. Not everyone has it built-in.”


It's a good news week!

Magic words: “permanent housing”

Your support helped 24 COTS clients move into homes of their own just since Monday! Thank you. And congratulations to our clients and staff who used your assistance well and effectively.


More magic words

When most people think about COTS, they think about shelter.

But did you know that we provide the crucial supports to keep over 400 people in permanent housing?

That number is going up soon.

In partnership with St. Joseph Health, we’ve renovated the second floor of the Mary Isaak Center to provide 11 private rooms to vulnerable adults. This will be permanent housing for up to 18 people. Residents will be able to cook for themselves or eat in our first-floor dining room. They’ll be able to access services at the Petaluma Health Center’s satellite office at our facility. Most importantly, they’ll be able to rely on a COTS case manager to help them navigate doctor’s appointments, finances, personal organization and more.

Can you help us welcome our new tenants?

We are looking for the following new items:

  • Small food storage containers
  • Individually packaged snacks—no nuts please
  • Fuzzy/cozy socks
  • Both women’s and men’s underwear (new)
  • Hard-to-kill house plants
  • Framed, ready-to-hang artwork (we love original pieces)
  • Shower totes (like students in dorms use) filled with personal care products:
    • Disposable razors
    • Shampoo/Conditioner
    • Body wash
    • Deodorant
    • Toothbrush
    • Toothpaste
    • Comb

To donate items please contact Angela Pustorino at apustorino@cots.org. Thank you!


Outreach branches out

This week, Cecily Kagy joined our outreach team. She’ll be training under our Petaluma veteran Randy Clay and then serving the Rohnert Park/Cotati area.

Our outreach specialists reach out to homeless people discharging from hospitals, camping, or sleeping in their cars. The specialists build trust with their clients, encouraging them to make the life changes that will create a safer, healthier life for themselves and the entire community.

They collaborate with local business owners, police officers and health care professionals. We all have a stake in making sure that people are safe.

Pictured: COTS’ Lead Outreach Specialist Randy Clay and a COTS client help Petaluma Police with a camp clean-up; Randy Clay offering assistance in Petaluma’s Putnam Plaza


Meet your COTS team member, Marge Popp

This month meet...

Margie Popp, COTS’ longest-serving volunteer and Lead Cook for lunch on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday!

Margie has lived in Petaluma for all 94 years of her life.  In 1945 she started working as an ‘office girl,’ 45 hours a week, earning 17 cents an hour. Margie worked for that same company for 38 years, before retiring in the 1980s.

When did you start volunteering at COTS?

Margie has been with COTS since the beginning. In 1982 a flood left many in Petaluma homeless and Margie started volunteering at a kitchen in the old fire station to help serve those in need. Eventually the kitchen became COTS and Margie continued helping there until the Mary Isaak Center was built.

Why did you choose to volunteer at COTS?

It’d be more accurate to say COTS chose Margie. COTS evolved out of the kitchen she was volunteering at and Margie stayed on. One day, the lead cook told Margie that she was leaving, and Margie was in charge now – and she’s been a lead cook ever since.

What do you like most about volunteering here?

Margie says the people, clients and volunteers, keep her coming back. There’s never a dull moment!

 

If you see Margie be sure to thank her for all her decades of volunteering and service to others!


January Virtual Coffee with Chuck

I would like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you to share our progress in serving the homeless, and hear from you about what we could be doing differently or better. Until then, I’d like to introduce you to a Virtual Cup of Coffee. This is my new monthly communique about the business and mission moments of COTS – Committee On The Shelterless. In the business portion, I will share the nuts and bolts of what we do to serve the homeless – our successes and our challenges. In the mission moment, I will share stories about our clients and our wonderful staff who make it all happen. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to your feedback.

All my best,
Chuck


Ending Homelessness

In 2016, the California Legislature passed SB 1380 that required all housing programs to adopt the Housing First Model. Sonoma County has since adopted Housing First (HF) to address our homeless problem.

Previously, COTS and other homeless providers followed the traditional model of “housing readiness” – a staircase approach where clients needed to show progress with their case management and compliance with shelter rules. As their behavior and progress improved, they moved up the staircase to transitional housing and then to permanent housing. This model aligned with American values of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps, hard work, and accountability. Sadly, this proved too difficult and many clients relapsed back into the streets.

Housing First originated 25 years ago and was a major shift in approach. HF believes that getting a person into a home first begins their physical and mental healing and immediately moves them from an outcast to a member of the community. Once a person is in a safe and stable environment, HF then surrounds them with supportive services. The success rate is much higher. Moreover, HF eliminates the need for costly long-term shelters and transitional housing and reduces the cost of a homeless person accessing expensive emergency services such as law enforcement and emergency room visits.

COTS adopted Housing First in 2017. The model does have its challenges, such as finding housing in an expensive county with a shortage of affordable housing. We have also made our share of mistakes. We are, however, part of a bigger partnership with the county government, elected officials, other homeless providers, and community leaders that together believe we can end homelessness through this model. I believe we can and will.

As one of our staff mentioned, a home is the foundation of family. It’s where we celebrate birthdays and holidays, grow our families, form our values, and create memories. Everything that is most meaningful and private happens in the safety of our home. Shouldn’t everyone have a home?

Christmas Gratitude

On Christmas morning several staff, some of our shelter clients, and I awoke early, went to the kitchen at the Mary Isaak Shelter, and started to cook a special Christmas breakfast for our clients. Our fearless leader organizing us was Silvia Montero, Manager of Shelter Operations. By then, Santa was long gone and so were the cookies and milk. Regardless, we had eggs going, pancakes on the griddle, sausages in the oven, fruit being sliced, and much more.

As our clients started filtering in for breakfast, its safe to say many were not expecting this. After all, they are homeless and looked upon with judgment. As they served themselves or were served by our staff, many expressed sincere gratitude and appreciation for what they were given.

Over the years, I’ve learned that gratitude is about appreciation; oftentimes, its about something having little to do with monetary worth. It’s also about a feeling of goodness – good things and benefits around us that we receive. These good things can be things outside ourselves – other people that help us achieve that goodness in our lives.

I’ve also learned that gratitude is a choice – we can choose to be grateful or not even in the most challenging times.

On Christmas morning our clients chose to be grateful for what they were given. Despite their situation – living in a shelter, suffering from addiction and mental health illness, they chose to show appreciation for their Christmas meal and the love, respect, and care given to them by staff and volunteers. Small acts of kindness every day can lift spirits, make a difference, and change the world.

Thank you to our staff, volunteers, and clients who made Christmas that much more special for ourselves and others.


Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Top 10 Moments of 2018

10. COTS is honored to help in fire recovery

The Laure Reichek Housing Hub in Santa Rosa is providing a variety of permanent rental opportunities to those made homeless in the fires or their immediate wake. We have funding to help 572 people over three years. In our first five months, we housed 105 people!

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9. When people are housed, we all benefit

Rebekah Sammet was living in our Integrity Housing program when she agreed to speak at the Grand Opening of the Laure Reichek Housing Hub in July. She talked about how having permanent housing changed her life and the life of her two-year-old daughter.

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8. COTS helps people stay housed

“Find housing. Keep housing.”

That’s our motto, and that’s what we help people do.

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7. 30 years of community

“Thank you for being there,” someone wrote on a donation check this month.

May we turn that “thank you” right around?

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6. Volunteers keep our doors open

At any hour of the day—on any day—volunteers are working for COTS.

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5. Spirits that won’t quit

In the face of the worst housing crisis in Sonoma County history, our residents live in hope, creating beauty and community.

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4. Community fundraisers

These folks raised incredible amounts of cash and awareness. Thank you!

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3. Business supporters

Our businesses volunteered, raised funds, donated goods, services, time and treasure.

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2. Landlords step up!

In the last year, we’ve been able to house hundreds of people–children and adults–thanks to dozens of landlords who believe in our programs and our participants.

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1. Diana Morales wins the COTS Board President’s Award

A kind word from Diana can convince people to finally come in from the streets, to seek help, to address problems, to make changes. Just last month, Diana saved two lives!

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