Chuck's Virtual Coffee - August 2021

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,
Chuck

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 (https://cots.org/2021/06/chucks-virtual-coffee-may-2021/), 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


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - July 2021

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,
Chuck

Data Conundrum

Nonprofits face lots of data conundrums. They must show program impact and deliverables to private donors, foundations, and government agencies that financially support them. Boards of Directors want data as part of their governance responsibility. And Accounting, Human Resources, Fundraising, Grants, and Programs need data to monitor their performance. The result is that different stakeholders want different data to make different decisions. And collecting the data can be cumbersome, confusing, or based on complicated formulas. Doing this every month becomes an onerous and dreaded chore that no one looks forward to – a burden. And what often happens is data drift, where we can’t decide what to measure or what’s important, so we try and measure everything. And that is a waste of time and staff resources.

But we need the right data for several reasons – to understand if our current programs and activities are achieving their intended results; to drive improvement; to communicate a common understanding and language to various stakeholders on what we intend to achieve and how we’ll do that; to advocate for more community support; and of course, to accomplish our goals. Good, accurate, and timely data should reveal what happened (descriptive); why it happened (diagnostic); what will happen next (predictive); and inform the user what they should do about the results (prescriptive). The data should also be easy and simple to get.

As businesses change, grow, and mature, so too must their data needs and what to measure. Homelessness has changed over the years and the data we collect, analyze, and make decisions from also need to change. The Housing First model has resulted in a very different population served at COTS. We see the most difficult clients – those with severe and persistent mental health issues, physical disabilities, substance abuse challenges, and social and behavioral issues. As much as we offer services to help improve their situation, many simply have no interest. The Housing First model calls for removal of barriers to shelter entry and then to provide services without any mandates to accept them. While housing is the solution to homelessness and will always be our hope, it may not be their hope and thus it is not realistic to believe that many will get housed. With the high cost of living, limited affordable housing, and low income of many of our clients, housing is not always a realistic goal. Often, success for COTS is getting someone off the streets, into a shelter with a warm bed, hot food, and laundry and shower facilities with the hope of restoring some dignity and comfort in their lives…even for a short time. While the hoped-for destination is housing, the journey is just as important if not more so for those not wanting help or housing but just some interim relief from the chaos of being unsheltered.

Therefore, data such as cost per person housed; number of households diverted from homelessness; length of stay in the shelter; or number of people participating in our programs is no longer practical, useful, or relevant.

Iain De Jong, in his book, The Book on Ending Homelessness, says “the three metrics that matter most to homeless service providers are: (1) How many people are homeless? (2) How many people moved into permanent housing? (3) How many people fell back into homelessness after being housed? If one captures these three metrics remarkably well, then the industry would move forward leaps and bounds.”

That’s a good start and as it relates to the Program and Services COTS offers to those experiencing homelessness, I would add one more – the breakdown by race/ethnicity of those we serve. It’s critical that we also address systemic race issues within our homeless system of care. It’s the right thing to do.

Delta Variant

Just when we thought COVID was on the decline in Sonoma County, here comes the delta variant and a surge in positive cases. But thanks to Human Resources Director Cat Higgins and Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix and her team, COTS never let their guard down. Cat and Robin insisted on following CDC and Sonoma County Public Health guidelines for safety, sanitation, testing, isolating, and masking in a congregate living shelter.

The results have been simply amazing. As of this writing, only two positive cases at COTS and the Mary Isaak Center – one shelter resident that had a vaccine and another shelter resident who did not show any symptoms. One of those cases was transported to the Alternative Care Site (ACS) and we are still waiting for the test results from the other case.

All shelter residents are required to show proof of vaccination or have a negative test result within 72 hours of coming into the shelter. Robin also re-instituted the “red zone” which is a quarantined area for people awaiting test results. Also, Public Health was at the Mary Isaak Center last week testing every resident for COVID and also providing vaccinations. Only one resident refused to get tested and was exited from the shelter. And so far, all the test results of the residents were negative.

Moreover, Robin communicates with Sonoma County Public Health, Petaluma Health Center, and Petaluma’s Police Department, City Manager’s Office, and the new SAFE (Specialized Assistance For Everyone) Team about our safety protocols and any new infections. It’s important that we communicate with our partners.

Cat, Robin, and her team deserve major thanks, kudos, and appreciation for keeping staff and shelter residents safe. It’s not been easy, comfortable, or convenient. But it’s difficult to argue with the results. Thank you, Cat, Robin, and team for leading the way.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - June 2021

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,
Chuck

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


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - May 2021

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,
Chuck

Environmental Justice

Articles in the newspaper about homelessness usually focus on encampment sweeps, reasons a person becomes homeless, types of health challenges faced, or the need for more affordable housing. What’s not often covered are the impacts of encampments on the environment or the effects of climate change and pollution on the homeless. Basic human rights like clean water, sanitation, bathrooms, and a safe place to live – the things many of us take for granted – are also not covered. The convergence of all these challenges makes solving homelessness one of our biggest issues today.

The unsheltered live, eat, sleep, socialize, and take care of basic human functions all outdoors. Human waste contaminates the ground and water. There are large amounts of trash and contaminated needles. Fires also occur in camps and given the drought conditions of Northern California, could be devastating. Encampments cause significant damage to parks, habitat, riparian areas, and connected waterways. But let’s be fair. The unsheltered may not understand proper camping protocols. And in my experience, it is not their intent to harm the environment. They would rather be somewhere safe and with access to services that can help them. And for many legitimate reasons, living in a congregate setting like a shelter does not work for everyone.

Climate change and pollution also directly impact the unsheltered. Some sleep near roads or under bridges exposing them to high levels of auto related emissions. As temperatures increase, more are susceptible to heat stress.

Compromise

Many of us fight for social justice and equity. But what about environmental justice, where we try and balance the need to keep our environment safe and healthy while also providing a safe and dignified living environment for the unsheltered. How do we create a better situation for the unsheltered and the environment?

One answer is compromise. What if we utilized a large plot of land where the unsheltered can live temporarily without fear of being roused to move on? There would be space for tents, vehicles, even tiny homes. And what if services were provided to help address challenges like mental health, medical, substance abuse, and case management services to assist with life skills and to find housing? The ultimate goal is to get people stabilized and then into a type of housing that works for them. Some may not want a traditional apartment or house to share with others. Maybe a tiny home structure to call their own is all they want. While the unsheltered may not have the freedom to do whatever they please, neither does anyone else. The win-win is that they are in a safe place with clean water, access to showers and laundry, hot meals, and services to assist them back to health. We also minimize harm to the environment while allowing others to enjoy the beauty and safety of parks and public areas.

As we continue to address the complexities of homelessness, let’s not forget one basic premise – we are all human beings and deserve respect. Respect means to accept someone for who they are even when they are different from you or you don’t agree with them, their living style, or their situation. It means not passing judgement just because someone is without a home. Homelessness does not define a person. It only defines their situation. That is why we say a person experiences homelessness. We hope that it is a temporary living situation. We are all equal and all people are due respect for the simple fact that they are people…including those experiencing homelessness.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Bringing Mindfulness to the Mary Isaak Center

Shelter Case Manager Chris Inclan knows firsthand the power of having the right tools in your proverbial tool belt. “I come from not a great household,” he says. “My mom was an addict and my dad was an alcoholic, my dad left when I was really young, and I kinda raised myself in a way.” He got into a lot of trouble growing up, spending time in and out of jail, and struggled with addiction himself until he hit a spiritual bottom. “I was basically lost and felt empty inside,” he says, “and I got on my knees and I asked for help from whatever was out there in the universe, and it guided me to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

After entering recovery, Chris went back to school and became a substance use disorder counselor. “I was going to go to school for business,” he says, “and I thought, what’s better than helping people with their addiction?” He worked as a substance use disorder counselor for four years before joining COTS six months ago, where his lived experience makes him uniquely qualified to lead the meditation and self-esteem group for Mary Isaak Center residents every Saturday.

He designed the group to help all COTS clients who might need it, not just those struggling with addiction. He got the idea from a self-esteem group they ran at his previous job, and decided to add in the components of meditation and mindfulness to round it out. “I remember the group being really beneficial and getting a lot of good feedback from clients in treatment. So I thought, let’s put a group together that can help with addiction issues but can also help anybody that’s just trying to better themselves.”

Every meeting starts with a check-in, a reflection period to see how everyone is doing, followed by a meditation. “Most of the time it’s a guided meditation,” says Chris, but depending on the people present, it can get a little more creative, like a chanting meditation. Then the group finishes with an exercise from a self-esteem packet, or something else Chris feels is important, like emotional intelligence.

“I’m trying to give our clients new tools, a new way to look at the world,” Chris says. “A lot of our clients have an external locus of control, and when we live from a place like that, it’s not empowering, because you don’t feel like you have any control in your life. I wanted to bring in the self-esteem component so our clients can start moving towards an internal locus of control, so they can start recognizing that they have choices. When you start choosing better decisions for your life, you’re going to feel better, you’re going to do things that will move you forward, instead of doing things that will set you back. It’s not a perfect science, but if you really give yourself to this process and make this a way of life, then I think the outcomes are totally different than if you’re just living on autopilot.”

Right now, the group is small, “but we’re trying to grow it,” says Chris. “Even if it only helps a couple of people,” it’s still worth it.

For the person that does want help,” he adds, “being able to have the right things in place, the proper tools and assistance, [is key]. COTS does a good job of that. The culture here and the environment is really conducive to growth and getting better. This is the right place to come if you really want to change because we’re going to be able to plug you in and connect you with the right people. We’re using what we have to make a difference.”


Planting Seeds: New Mental Health Offering at COTS

At COTS, we are always looking for innovative ways to better serve and support our clients, not just in finding housing, but in maintaining it. That’s why starting this Spring, we are excited to add a new mental health offering for Integrity Housing clients, in partnership with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Karyn Duffy.

Thanks to the support of two very generous supporters, Karyn will be able to provide three 50-minute therapy sessions a week to clients living in Integrity Housing, at absolutely no cost to our clients.

Currently, Integrity Housing serves about 60 clients in 11 houses. In order to serve the most people, Karyn will be using a short-term solution-oriented strategy, working with each client for a maximum of twelve weeks. “There are just too many people in that program to only provide three people with ongoing services,” Karyn says. “We’re going to check in on a regular basis, chart out accomplishable goals, and then show a positive outcome. To me, twelve weeks feels very doable.”

A unique challenge Integrity Housing poses is shared living. Each house has a mix of individuals and families living in it, having been referred from a mix of COTS’ emergency shelters and other partner organizations. They have never met prior to living together, and they typically move in without seeing the house first. “We do the best we can to make appropriate referrals for these houses,” says Jules Pelican, Director of Programs, “but residents do not have the ability to choose who they are going to live with.”

Add to this that many COTS clients have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which contribute to mental health challenges, and can make living communally more difficult. “This is one of a hundred reasons that therapy is important to our clients,” says Debbie Robbins, who oversees the Integrity Housing program.

Karyn is a long-time COTS partner, which makes her the perfect person for this new partnership. “This will be my tenth year,” she says. Originally an intern through Petaluma People Services Center, over the years Karyn has offered support to both COTS clients and staff, performing in-home visits, facilitating support groups, and offering private therapy sessions. “She’s done a lot for us,” says Jules. “She works in both of our Permanent Supportive Housing programs, she offers sliding scale sessions for folks who used to be COTS clients so that they can keep seeing her – some people have seen her for years.”

Part of the beauty of Karyn’s long-standing partnership with COTS, says Debbie, “is that because she knows COTS so well, when our clients go to her, or staff for that matter, they don’t have to waste a session or two explaining about COTS culture, and that’s a time saver for everybody.”

“Jules always said I know how to be with people,” says Karyn. “I actually am really humbled by my work with COTS. When you look at the tenacity of people and their sense of survival, and their will power, it just blows me away. They’re surviving, they’re strong, and they want to be better. Broken people are not just to be discarded; they need compassion and respect and understanding.”

With this new offering, Karyn will be able to help even more people. “If we had good county mental health services to serve our folks,” says Jules, “we wouldn’t have to go out and pay for our own therapist. But because we don’t have adequate mental health supports in the county, this has been a beautiful workaround.” Adds Debbie: “To have these funders realize the importance of having somebody available for our clients to discuss any issues…it’s a game changer for some of our folks. This is huge.”

Your support is what allows us to keep valuable offerings like this as we continue to explore new ways to support those whom we serve. Thank you for investing in COTS and our community!


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - April 2021

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,
Chuck

Shopping Carts – Not Just for Groceries

A sight that always makes my heart sad is to see a person experiencing homelessness pushing a shopping cart. There is no human dignity in that. For many, a shopping cart is what we use at the store for things we buy. But for those without a home, a cart “acts as kind of a life raft.”

The most common use of that “life raft” is the most obvious – to carry their possessions. I see carts around the Mary Isaak Center with stuff that makes no sense to me – cans, a broom, frisbee, BBQ grill, tires. But those things may have a sentimental value – a reminder of better times when they had a home. Or they may be insurance for the future – things they may need or could sell. Perhaps it’s because they’ve lost so much in their lives – their job, home, family, friends and children, that they gather things just to hold onto something. The carts also carry blankets, cardboard, sleeping bags, tarps and things they need at night to survive, and to stay warm and dry.

What’s not so obvious is that they also use the carts for protection and safety at night. Flipping it on its side or back to use as shelter to protect themselves from people who want to steal from or harm them. It’s an unfortunate reality for those without a home. Carts are also used to carry their pets. What would you do if you lost your home or were evicted from your apartment and had pets? Pets are like family to many of us, including those without a home, so you take them with you. And because those without a home walk much of the day, the carts help provide rest for the pets. Carts are also used to collect cans, bottles, and other items to sell at redemption centers.

And sadly, carts can also be used as a type of walker. Many unsheltered have physical disabilities that make walking difficult. And because libraries and other public facilities were closed during the pandemic, there were fewer places for the unsheltered to go to, sit down, take refuge, and rest. It’s one thing to push a cart in a store with smooth flooring or a paved parking lot but try pushing a cart on bumpy uneven surfaces. It’s hard and tiring.

Taking a shopping cart from a retailer is theft. Replacing carts is expensive. But many retailers don’t press charges against people without financial means. There is also a compassionate side with retailers, law enforcement, and others that respond to complaints about the homeless and shopping carts. I know that because I witness it daily at the Mary Isaak Center by our wonderful and loving Petaluma community – our own retailers and businesses, Police, Fire, EMT, Medical community, and so many others. They have big and warm hearts and don’t want to make a difficult situation worse.

I don’t know what the answer is with shopping carts. But maybe one solution to not seeing shopping carts by those without a home is simple – kind of – let’s get everyone in a home or a warm and safe living environment that works for them.

A shot in the arm…

This month, COTS had its first COVID vaccine clinic. We had 80 doses to give, and we used all 80…for the sheltered and unsheltered, some COTS staff, community volunteers, and the general public. This was the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. This clinic was in large part due to the heroic volunteer efforts led by Dr. Loie Sauer MD, Annie Nichol FNP from the Petaluma Health Center, the Sonoma County Medical Association, Fox Home Health Care, and a team of nurses, a dentist, retired physicians, and so many more.

Our plan was to vaccinate many of our sheltered and unsheltered. We did some, but not as many as we’d hoped. They have the same questions, concerns, and hesitations as the general public. Trust is paramount and they do not trust the medical community or anyone in authority telling them what to do. Their daily struggle to survive, find food, water, and safety overrides most everything else, including a “little virus” that just doesn’t seem as critical as the other stuff they face. Some have mental health issues like paranoia that prevent them from trusting the vaccine.

Like others, conspiracy theories also prevent the unsheltered from getting a vaccine. “They put a special dye in it and it’s like small robots going into your system that helps change your DNA…” or “they are putting a chip in you and you are going to be someone’s guinea pig…” or “the disease is caused by 5G cell towers…”

Of course, it’s difficult for anyone living outside, whose health is already compromised, to follow public health recommendations – social distancing, hygiene, staying at home when you have no home, or seeing your doctor. The unsheltered also lack internet access to sign up with online vaccine portals, lack transportation to vaccination sites, or don’t have the right information about vaccines.

The 2020 annual Point in Time Count showed 2,745 sheltered and unsheltered in Sonoma County. That was pre-COVID and I am certain that number has increased. We have a long way to go to get everyone vaccinated. But this was a good start. Thank you everyone who made this pop-up clinic happen. We are grateful and appreciate you.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Business Profile: The Shuckery

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Sisters Jaz, left, and Aluxa, right, owners of Petaluma's The Shuckery and The Oyster Girls

Pearls of Petaluma

When you traffic in oysters, the world is yours. And with that, comes a responsibility and an opportunity to help make your world a better place.

At least, that’s how sisters Jaz and Aluxa Lalicker look at it. Owners, respectively, of Petaluma’s The Shuckery and The Oyster Girls, Jaz and Aluxa take every opportunity to support COTS.

Jaz and her sister cherish that as independent business owners they can focus their time and efforts on causes they care about. “I live in Petaluma. I love it and I want to support it,” Jaz says. She sees the need for help on the streets right outside her restaurant and within her circle of family and friends. “Sometimes, you can get frustrated by how big the problems are. COTS is easy to work with, and they’re getting things done.”

Always a community booster, the pandemic has only increased the sisters’ commitment to community.

In the beginning, Jaz provided customers with basic goods they couldn’t find in grocery stores, preparing care packages of toilet paper and produce from her restaurant suppliers. More recently, in gratitude for their continued support of her restaurant and her staff, she’s taken to changing up her menu to cook whatever her customers want.

And in addition to her own contributions to COTS, she’s connected her customers with us. “I know the type of people who come into my restaurant. They’re looking for ways to help and I can connect them,” Jaz says. Recently, Jaz ran a food drive for COTS, offering discounts to customers who contributed. She also talks about COTS with customers and shares our needs with them.

The sisters arrived in Sonoma County by way of Oklahoma by way of Mexico. They learned what it takes to start and run a business by watching their mother, who, herself, started and ran several businesses. “She really drove that spirit in both of us,” Jaz says.

The oyster focus came about because of Aluxa’s love of the ocean and a trip the sisters took to New Orleans. To Jaz, oyster bars were boisterous and unpretentious and each one was its own animal. “They were welcoming and honest. That’s the kind of place I wanted to open,” Jaz says.

We are grateful to have the Lalicker sisters’ support and advocacy and wish them luck as the world re-opens. Thank you, Jaz and Aluxa!


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Business Profile: Barber Cellars

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From the minute she and her husband Mike opened Barber Cellars Winery, Lorraine Barber’s been working to strengthen her community.

One of the first things she did is put together a Petaluma Wine Tasting Trail Guide and distribute it free of charge to all the local wineries so that they could support one another. “I like connecting people,” she says, “and I’m a good cheerleader. If I see something good, I want to let people know about it.”

Mike and Lorraine added to their enterprise when they entered into partnership with Aaron Lee to open Barber Lee Spirits. True to form, Lorraine looked for ways to boost the efforts of all the area’s alcohol makers. She started Petaluma Drinks, a festival that celebrated and promoted the products from dozens of local craft alcohol makers, including spirits, wine, beer, cider, bitters, and fermented non-alcoholic beverages such as kombucha and kvass.

And she made sure the festival benefited the larger community by dedicating a portion of ticket sales to COTS.

“We’re rising tide sort of people,” Lorraine says. “We’ve always felt like if others do well, so do we. It feels like a very natural kind of thing.”

“I’ve always tried to put community first and put good energy into it. And this year, we really got it back,” says Lorraine. “Our community saved us and every business in town that’s still standing. Petaluma is incredible, so how could we not give back?”

That’s why, despite all the hardships and increased costs of doing business in a pandemic, Barber Cellars and Barber Lee Spirits are still giving. Those who order wines or spirits online can choose to dedicate 10 percent of their purchase price to COTS.

Their two beautifully appointed shops are on Washington Street. Barber Cellars is in the Hotel Petaluma, and Barber Lee Spirits is next door. Lorraine, who has a background in construction and renovation, is responsible for the airy and inviting décor.

“We just make things we like to drink, and we hope other people like them, too,” Lorraine says. Oftentimes, those are wines in the Italian style. She and Mike began making wine as amateurs in their San Francisco apartment, crushing grapes in the kitchen and fermenting the juices in the bedroom closet. They bought a house in Petaluma “to be closer to the vines” and they’ve remained true to Sonoma County grapes ever since.

They sold that house in order to open up Barber Cellars, a risk worth taking because “It’s what we want to do, and we love doing it.” Lorraine says. “And we are too stubborn to fail!”

They partnered with Aaron Lee to create out-of-the-ordinary spirits, including single malt rye whiskey, white absinthe and apple brandy made using local apples.

Thank you to these passionate makers. If you’d like to support COTS with the purchase of a locally crafted wine or spirit, you can click below.

Visit Barber Cellars Visit Barber Lee Spirits


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Business Profile: Petaluma Health Care District

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COTS Lead Outreach Specialist Randy Clay, who works with Petaluma Sober Circle, speaking with a client

Since the 1940s, when voters approved its formation, the Petaluma Health Care District’s central mission has been to serve the health needs of South County residents.

That’s meant huge projects, like replacing an outdated hospital with the emergency room-equipped Petaluma Valley Hospital. It’s meant keeping PVH open while other small hospitals across the country struggled and hundreds of them closed. It’s meant allowing the Petaluma Health Center to incubate under the district’s umbrella and then separate to become a fully-fledged Federally Qualified Health Center.

It’s also meant partnerships with community organizations, including a 30-year partnership with COTS.

“Health care doesn’t stop at the doctor’s office door,” explains Ramona Faith, the District’s CEO. “So many things contribute to good health. And community health means all the community. Every one of us. That’s why we work with COTS.”

“Ramona gets us focused,” says Robin Phoenix, COTS’ Shelter Services Manager. “She brings people to the table and she makes things happen.”

And the results are both tremendous and impactful.

Robin’s favorite collaboration is The Petaluma Sober Circle, which the District convened and helps to manage.

Sober Circle involves an array of partners and provides a through-line of support through treatment, shelter, and housing to those who struggle with addiction. At the same time, Sober Circle reduces financial burdens to the local healthcare system and to the public sector by reducing reliance on costly emergency resources. Since the program started, for example, the police have had to make 80 percent fewer transports to the county detox center. Sober Circle participants make fewer trips to the emergency room, are hospitalized much less frequently and receive coordinated wrap-around services to help them pursue a path to recovery.

Ramona Faith, PHCD’s CEO

“Because Ramona got us all together in one room, we now have people who are getting the support they need to change their lives. And we see benefits to the entire community. It’s a beautiful thing,” Robin says. “This wouldn’t have happened without the Health Care District’s support and leadership.”

And like good collaborations, Sober Circle has only led to more partnerships and collaborations.

The Health Care District focuses its community efforts in five areas: access to health services; mental health and substance abuse; heart health and healthy food; housing affordability and availability; and equity in educational opportunities from “cradle to career” as the District calls it.

For those students, the District frequently partners with the Petaluma Educational Foundation, helping to develop and fund programs to enhance students’ physical, mental and emotional health. PEF Executive Director Maureen Highland says the District helps “lead the way” in creating innovative, useful and popular programs.

What’s next?

In November, voters authorized the sale of the Petaluma Valley Hospital in exchange for over $52 million and an agreement to keep the hospital open for at least 20 years.

For Ramona and her staff, that means more time and resources to further the health of the community. They are in the initial stages of involving the community in the creation of a thoughtful, strategic and sustainable plan to invest the proceeds of the sale in services and programs that will improve our health in southern Sonoma County for years to come.

Thank you, Petaluma Health Care District.


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