Chuck's Virtual Coffee - May 30, 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,

Our Homeless System of Care

Addressing homelessness is complex. There are dozens of homeless service providers and county departments working on this. There are federal, state, and local funding sources that come with regulatory requirements; homeless advocates, elected officials, community leaders, private donors, foundations, and health care professionals—all valuable voices on this issue. So how do we administer all these moving parts?

Sonoma County restructured their Homeless System of Care to be more intentional, focused, accountable, and results oriented. They created a system comprised of three basic parts that closely work together.

The first part is the Leadership Council. They own the homeless issue, approve funding decisions and policy, set strategy for solving the issue, and monitor overall performance. The Council has nine people including elected officials, people with “lived experience” (formerly homeless), an assistant city manager representing small cities, and an expert on housing and county matters.

The second is the Technical Advisory Committee. They recommend policy and provide expertise to the Council and are comprised of 25 subject matter experts from various interest groups in the county. Most of their work is done through six Task Groups that examine homelessness from different perspectives – funding, housing first philosophy, performance, emerging issues and innovation, data, and housing production.

The third is the Lead Agency which is the Community Development Commission (County Department). They ensure all parts of the System of Care are working together in a coordinated and focused way. They provide expertise on state and federal funding, technical assistance to the Leadership Council, Technical Advisory Committee, the Task Groups, and help manage the annual Point in Time Count which counts all the homeless in Sonoma County.

I am on the Technical Advisory Committee and chair one of the Task Groups. This System of Care is working. There are very competent, experienced, innovative, and caring professionals addressing this problem. There are goals, accountabilities, checks and balances, oversight, and strong leadership. It will take time to solve the homeless issue but I am confident with this new System of Care, it will happen.

In future Virtual Coffees, I’ll give specific examples of how all three tiers of our Homeless System of Care work together to address homelessness in Sonoma County.

The dignity of a shower

Many of us start our day with a shower. It wakes us up, cleans us, and gets us ready for our day. We enjoy the smell of our favorite soap, shampoo, and a clean towel.

For those living on the streets or encampments, they don’t have the luxury of this daily ritual. Most have not showered in weeks and months. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just where? Imagine trying to stay clean living in a tent when its 95 degrees and humid or wet and muddy especially after the rains we’ve had this year. Impossible!

Nobody wants to be dirty and smelly. It offends you and others. A shower could remind you of what life was like before becoming homeless and perhaps what to look forward to when getting housed. It can provide a sense of dignity and respect – crucial to survival on the streets.

Randy Clay and Cecily Kagy, our two awesome Street Outreach Workers, spend much of their day walking the streets and encampments working with our homeless and trying to build their trust. Offering them showers can do just that. Because of that and the need, they recently worked with Shelter Manager Silvia Montero to make showers available every Wednesday afternoon. It’s been wonderfully successful. We provide soap and a clean towel.

We know the need is huge, so we are working to have more afternoons for showers. We want to make sure each guest gets a toothbrush, toothpaste, and basic toiletries to keep. We’re also working on ensuring each visitor here has a hot meal waiting for them.

Being homeless is a full-time job. It’s a chaotic environment where instability, stress, hopelessness and lack of opportunity dictate an individual’s life. We hope that providing showers, toiletries, and a hot meal is the first step in furthering trust that will then allow them to accept other services such as case management, medical care, getting on the waiting list for a shelter bed, and eventually housing.

For now, one step at a time – a hot shower!

If you would like to support these efforts with items for our shower program, please contact Kyle Muelrath at

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez

COTS May News

Housing Changes Everything!

It’s official: April is the coolest month!

Thanks to you, our Outreach Specialists were able to help 24 people on the streets or in local encampments find permanent housing in April.

Your support also meant that 14 people from our emergency shelters were able to move into permanent housing.

Additionally, our Laure Reichek Housing Hub in Santa Rosa placed 13 people in permanent housing all made possible by donors like you who keep our programs running.

Now, Emily can get ready for school in a bedroom instead of the backseat of her mom’s car. She told a COTS staff person that homework is a lot easier now that she can do it at a table in her own apartment.

How cool is that? Thank you!

Cecily Kagy, right, with Nurse Annie Nicol, left

Cecily Kagy shares her calling

Our very own Cecily Kagy, COTS’ Outreach Specialist for Rohnert Park and Cotati, delivered opening remarks Friday at the Petaluma Sheraton for The Health Officers Association of California.

Cecily has been in her current job only since Feb. 25, connecting with people living on the streets or in local encampments and helping them to access toiletries, services, and treatment. [Before that, she worked as a Housing Navigator at our Mary Isaak Center.] Already, she’s managed to move 52 people inside, some in shelter, some in permanent housing—all into safety.

How does she do it?

“My walk is what allows me to do my job,” Cecily told the crowd. “I can relate when I see the despair in their eyes. I’ve been there. And I can tell them, ‘if I can do it, you can do it.’”

Cecily is a survivor of horrific abuse, addiction and homelessness. She lives with mental illness. She’s also achieved wild accomplishments in her previous field of nursing and her current vocation of social work. “If I can do these things, just think of all the potential that’s out there among the homeless,” she said. “This is my calling.”

The panel that followed Cecily’s talk got off to a slow start as the participants discussed what they’d just heard. “I’m humbled,” Alex Gammelgard, Chief of Police for the City of Grass Valley, said of Cecily. She demonstrated, he said, “that if we can have patience and compassion, amazing things can happen.”

Showers for all

Keeping clean is tough when you’re camping outside or living in your car. The Mary Isaak Center is open for non-resident showers on Wednesdays. Sign up starts at 11:30 a.m. at 900 Hopper Street, and showers begin after our free lunch program at 1 p.m.

If you know anyone who could benefit, please share the news. And let them know, singing in the shower is not required, but it’s totally welcome.

We also need towels for this program. If you have used towels that are in good condition, we’d be grateful if you’d drop them off at the Mary Isaak Center during normal business hours.

Dennis taking a break volunteering in the kitchen at the Mary Isaak Center

Dennis finds a home

We help people find housing as quickly as possible. “As possible” means something different for each client, however, depending on their income and other circumstances.

We’re rejoicing that Dennis Daggett will be moving into his own apartment soon. It’s been a long wait for him to move into subsidized senior housing, with many twists and turns, including a nasty bout of pneumonia.

A few months ago, his name came to the top on a senior affordable housing waiting list, but his application was denied after the management reviewed his credit report. What they didn’t know was that Dennis had overextended himself to care for a sick spouse. They also didn’t know that he’d been making regular payments on his debts: collection agencies don’t report payments until debts have been paid in full.

We were able to help Dennis successfully appeal that decision, and we’re able to help him with move-in costs, but even after the management changed its mind about his application, Dennis had to wait several more months to move in because the apartment he’d been notified about had been given to someone else.

Through the more than a year that Dennis has been at the Mary Isaak Center, he’s been a stalwart volunteer, helping out in the kitchen and doing chores around the center. He’s a favorite with our community volunteers, who love his courtly ways and the stories of his Hollywood career (including some interactions with Alfred Hitchcock on the set of “The Birds”). We applaud Dennis’ patience and good cheer and we long for a day when someone in his position can find a home much more quickly.

If you’d like to find out more about Dennis’ Hollywood career, check out his book, “The House that Ince Built,” available at the Sonoma County Library.

If you’d like to help him furnish his new home, please contact Kyle Muelrath at

Chef Derrick Ng preparing another delicious free meal for our community

Save the date for July 11: COTS Community BBQ

Please save the evening of July 11 for a community barbecue at the Mary Isaak Center: delicious food; live music from the Rivertown Skifflers; and games for kids and grownups alike.

What are we celebrating? Well, thanks to an anonymous funding partner, no one need be hungry or poorly nourished in Petaluma and the south county. A recent grant to Mary’s Table is allowing us to expand!

Right now, at Mary’s Table in the Mary Isaak Center, COTS offers three free meals a day to our residents.

Lunch is open to the entire community and it is chock full of flavorful fresh fruits and vegetables. Starting in July, we can begin providing dinner to the public as well—again, at no charge.

Imagine the impact a second meal will have for people. For some, who can’t make it to COTS for lunch, dinner may be their only square meal of the day. For others, having two meals a day will save them hundreds of dollars each month—important when you’re struggling to get by on a fixed income. One third of Sonoma County residents cannot afford to eat three meals a day, according to the county’s Human Services Department. Here in the south county, those who are struggling can take the grocery bill off their list of worries.

Mary’s Table is also a friendly place, a place to catch up with friends, chat with our volunteers or find out about resources like free tax preparation, adult education, reduced price cell phones, etc.

Every month, we serve over 7,000 meals. With dinners open to the community, we expect to increase that number to over 8,000.

Let a Thousand Fundraisers bloom

How do we know it’s Spring?

Fundraisers are blossoming everywhere you look. Just in April, the Kids at Valley Vista Elementary School raised over $500 in their Chores for COTS fundraiser, while the Windsor Jazz Ensemble played a red-hot concert for us in Healdsburg raising nearly $2,000.

Anyone can raise money to help our clients get back into homes of their own. If you’d like to run a race or auction a prized possession, put on a trivia competition or a cotillion, or simply send an appeal to friends and family, you can become a fundraiser for COTS!

Here’s a sample of upcoming events that are sure to be fun.

Long Story Short, 8 p.m., Friday, May 10, Griffo Distillery, 1320 Scott Street, Petaluma; tickets $12 to $25; a benefit for COTS!

You have Stories.

Put your name in the hat – if your name is drawn, tell a 5 minute, true story, about you, without notes, that has a beginning, middle, end! May 10th LONG STORY SHORT’s  theme is: ‘WORK IT’ So, step up and tell a work-related story. Be loved!

Bundesen 12 Nights of Dining Raffle

The COTS raffle is back! Beginning in July, get in touch with any Century 21 Bundesen employee to buy tickets. Win gift cards to the best restaurants in town!

Bay Alarm Garage Sale, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, May 18, 1016 Clegg Court.Sound an alarm! The best garage sale in town is in two weeks!

You can help in two ways. Before the event, donate your good condition furniture, tools, game, sporting goods, etc. at Bay Alarm during normal business hours. Or come to the event and find the treasures you need. Last year, people walked away with appliances, canoes, dolls, dishes, pool noodles—you name it!

Go Girls

The Go Girls, fourth graders Peyton Horn and Ava Mak, are planning a bake sale at Empower Martial Arts to benefit COTS. Stay tuned for details and deliciousness.

Thanks for Coming to Hops for Homes

When lovely people come together to support a great cause, a good time and good things follow. Thanks to everyone who supported our effort at Hops for Homes at Lagunitas on April 23.

You overwhelmed us with your generosity and good will. Redwood Credit Union offered a $15,000 matching grant and you smashed it! We were able to meet the matching grant in one night by raising $15,424 – meaning more than $30,000 will go to the Kids First Family Shelter for our families and children. We are so grateful to all our guests for being a part of our most successful Hops for Homes ever.

Special thanks to Redwood Credit Union, Lagunitas and all the donors to our meal and our silent auction and raffle.

Top right: COTS co-founder Laure Reichek shaking a leg with Development Manager Eileen Morris at this year’s Hops for Homes

Above: a wonderful turn out at this year’s Hops for Homes, benefiting our Kids First Family Shelter

Butter and Egg Days Champs!

Thank you to the volunteers and staff who walked with COTS in this year’s Butter and Egg Days parade, and thanks to David and Susan Jacoby who loaned us their Model A! We reveled in the parade’s pun theme in honor of Clo the Cow – it gave us a chance to remind spectators that it’s always MOO-ving day at COTS!

COTS won first prize for the Antique or Classic Car (Non-Commercial) category and we can’t wait to start planning for next year’s parade.

Music and Animals and Eggs

We run a lean operation here, but thanks to our supporters, our residents sometimes get a chance to celebrate, take care of themselves, and relax.

In April, Hannah Jern Miller brought down the house at the Mary Isaak Center with a mix of classic rock, folk, country and blues. Hannah came to us courtesy of the nonprofit Bread and Roses. Thank you, Hannah, and thank you Bread and Roses!

Meanwhile, our kids at Vida Nueva – COTS’ permanent supportive housing center in Rohnert Park – had the best spring break ever!

Independence 4-H brought by a miniature petting zoo, and the Active 20-30 Club of Rohnert Park put on a party and an egg hunt that will not soon be forgotten. Thank you!

Also this month, the Gentleman’s Barber Shop of Windsor set up shop outside of the Mary Isaak Center and snipped and trimmed and coiffed all comers. The mood at Mary Isaak was bright as everyone looked their best – thanks to the care of these generous stylists.
Thank you to all those who share their time and talent and care with our residents.

COTS April Newsletter: Planting gardens and slaying monsters

Hops for Homes

Come hop, come dine, come relax and unwind at Hops for Homes, our annual community celebration!

Hops for Homes
Lagunitas Brewing Company
1280 North McDowell Blvd
Petaluma, CA 94953

We’re celebrating our incredible volunteers – and raising money for our Kids First Family Shelter! It’s going to be a fantastic night of rock and soul with Petaluma’s hottest band, The Highway Poets – and if you’re lucky, you’ll take home one of our amazing raffle prizes or silent auction packages. Dinner comes courtesy of Anna B’s Kitchen with dessert by Three Twins Ice Cream and Petaluma Pie Company.

Kids ten and under get in free and every kid is welcome at the Active 20-30 Club’s Kid’s Corner for games and crafts. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door. All proceeds support KFFS, so come on out , have a great time, and make a difference in the lives of our kids and families!

See the full list of raffle prizes and auction items here.

Get your tickets now!


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.”

Learn more about Linda's story


Monday nights, a mix of people fill our dining room. Some live in big, comfortable homes and make big, comfortable incomes; some sleep on bunkbeds in our dorm and earn little or nothing.

All of them share the same goals: to remain sober and to live well and honorably, relying on each other and a higher power for support.

The N.A. Group that meets at the Mary Isaak Center is aptly called, “Shelter from the Storm.”

“Hank,” the group’s secretary says the location works for everyone—people like himself who are housed, working, and have years of sobriety under their belts, and people who live at the Mary Isaak Center, dealing with lots of uncertainty.

“We’re all there for the same reason,” Hank says. “And every meeting at the MIC sticks for me. There are always new people to hear from. I get excited by anyone new because it’s one more person to carry the message.”

He tells the people he sponsors to “find something to be grateful for.”

In a homeless shelter?

“I always tell my sponsees, I’ve done time in correctional facilities. Anytime I wake up in a room where I can open the door, that’s a day to be grateful for,” Hank says.

Alcoholics Anonymous also holds meeting at the Mary Isaak Center. We are grateful that the recovery community reaches out to COTS and our clients!


“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?

James’ 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 father 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.

Vida Garden Project

Last weekend at Vida Nueva, the Rohnert Park apartment complex where COTS provides supportive services to residents, we had a special event: the sun came out!

Seizing the moment, over a dozen volunteers from Discovery Church in Rohnert Park descended with shovels, gloves, soil and plants to make a special day even better. Together with residents, they planted fresh herbs that will turn home-cooked meals into home-cooked masterpieces.

“The whole area is so beautiful now. It’s a great place for people to enjoy a quiet, peaceful moment, and a great place for our kids to learn about plants,” says COTS’ on-site advocate Melissa Salini.

This is not the church’s first trip to Vida. Volunteers have helped in variety of ways, including providing groceries for families to provide special holiday dinners.

Mike Peterson, who is the church’s Outreach Director, says he and his fellow congregants help all around the city of Rohnert Park, and they bring their kids whenever possible. “It gives them a sense of community,” he says. “It gives them an idea of what living your faith is all about.”

Donate today to help make programs like these possible

March 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 share this Virtual Cup of Coffee: 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 learning more about our work – and our vision to end homelessness in Sonoma County – here at COTS.

All my best,


As I’m out in the community building relationships, I am often asked “who is COTS collaborating with?” Our business of helping people who experience homelessness is complicated – by regulatory compliance and reporting, competition for funding, and increased community concern. To make a real impact on today’s homelessness crisis, we must collaborate with other homeless providers, government agencies, and community businesses. Why? There are many reasons, but let me share just two.

Self-awareness and expertise– COTS has been serving the homeless in Sonoma County for over thirty years, but new situations and a changing clientele require us to stay nimble and self-aware. A recent emergency situation in our shelter brought to light gaps in our processes. To help us navigate the situation, our experienced staff reached out to another homeless provider who shared their own shelter policies. We were able to use these ideas to review and grow COTS’ programs to better serve our staff and clients. We then created a new position on our staff team to ensure that we have best practice policies and procedures in place across our organization.

Collaborating allows us to learn and grow. Seeing how others do things, especially if it’s in a non-related field or for-profit business, challenges us to emulate or aspire to their best practices, expertise, and capabilities. It can be easy to get trapped in our comfort zone – but looking beyond COTS’ walls forces us to reconsider how we do things and strive to always do better. Collaboration is just good business.

Healthy Meals, Healthy Community

People experiencing homelessness get most of their meals in shelters and soup kitchens. Because of limited financial resources and the availability of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, much of what is served in shelters is low nutrient high calorie, starch, or fatty. Yet good nutrition is critical for the prevention of chronic diseases that many low-income people suffer from – heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes. Undernutrition can also lead to decreased bone mass, impaired wound healing, and reduced cognitive functioning. For many, staying healthy or treating an illness takes a lower priority than staying safe and surviving on the streets.

In Sonoma County, especially, people should never go hungry. At COTS, both our clients and any of our neighbors experiencing hunger are welcome for lunch. We are fortunate to have Chef Derrick Ng on staff, who takes his job of feeding those experiencing homelessness very seriously. Coupled with a community that generously donates fresh produce (and just about everything else) and a corps of dedicated volunteers who chop, sort, julienne and more, COTS is making a difference in the kitchen.

Derrick grew up in Indonesia. He learned to cook watching his mom and others make traditional local cuisines. He moved to the U.S. in 2003 and worked a variety of jobs in the kitchen, finally owning his own restaurant. Derrick says that people eat first with their eyes and that good food makes people happy.

Derrick and his team always have fresh green and fruit salads, a healthy protein entrée, vegetarian side dishes, a hot vegetable soup, and fresh dessert – all made from scratch. His food brings people together, whether homeless or not – and you see and feel it in the dining room. Derrick and his team welcome all donations especially those from your garden.

Thank you Derrick, your wonderful staff, and our amazing team of COTS Kitchen Volunteers for making this all happen.

Don’t forget to follow COTS on Facebook to see our daily menu and updates about our programs, services and success stories!

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez

Housing Changes Everything

I am delighted to introduce myself as the new Director of Development here at COTS. Since my husband, daughter and I moved to Petaluma last summer, I knew I wanted to immerse myself in the community and make a difference in peoples’ lives at an organization I felt passionate about. I absolutely found the right match at COTS, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to build our network of supporters to further COTS’ mission of ending homelessness in Sonoma County.

I’ve been learning a lot in the last two weeks about our amazing staff, our deep range of programs, and the incredible strength and dedication of our COTS community. There is so much on the horizon here at COTS! I’m happy to share some of our news with you, and can’t wait find new ways of connecting in the months and years to come.


Jamieson Bunn
Director of Development

Making Housing Permanent

Since the beginning of our fiscal year in July, we’ve helped 153 clients find housing through our Rapid Re-Housing program! March looks like it’s going to be an exciting month, so stay tuned for updates.

But finding housing is of little value unless people have the financial and social resources to keep their housing.

That’s why about half of our program staff members are dedicated to helping people secure housing while the other half provide the support people need to stay housed.

Support can mean many things: rental assistance; job search and training resources; and help with budgeting and personal finance skills, securing child care, or navigating courts and bureaucracies.

Pictured: COTS’ Outreach Specialist Cecily Kagy listens to a COTS client

Outreach and Assistance in Rohnert Park

“I’m meeting people who have been homeless for so long they’ve lost all faith and hope in humanity,” Cecily Kagy says.

“And I get to help them. I love my job.”

Cecily is our newest outreach worker, serving the community of Rohnert Park. Until recently, she worked as a housing navigator at our Mary Isaak Center. Her office there was cramped, but compared to her current working conditions, it was the Taj Mahal.

“I pulled up a sheet of cardboard to sit down next to one gentleman earlier this week. He was under a bush, and I wanted to be able to make eye contact,” Cecily says. She learned that the gentleman was employed fulltime but crippled by a child support obligation that had been set while he was making much more money. In order to pay, he’s been camping for more than a year. Cecily helped him get into a shelter bed and is helping him with a child support modification request.

She keeps boots in her car so that she can muck around creek beds and talk with the people who live on them. She also keeps her dress shoes handy so that she can drop in to local businesses to meet the owners and let them know about her work and how they get in touch with her. “I try to meet at least one or two business people every day.”

Cecily’s position is funded by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission, and she serves an area where there are many people in need of help.

How many? Nick Bennett, Rohnert Park’s Environmental Coordinator, estimates that there are over 60 encampments in town—many of them along the city’s fragile water ways—along with numerous people living in vehicles. The Rohnert Park School system reports that there are over 40 homeless children in the city’s schools.

Until recently, Rohnert Park’s only resources to help the homeless while protecting health and safety were the police and a private security firm that patrols the creeks at night. “None of us are social workers,” Nick says. “Cecily comes out here, and she’s disarming and approachable. At the same time, she’s not a pushover. She’s solution oriented, and I watched her build connections with people.”

After only two weeks on the job, Cecily is excited about many things: getting six people safely indoors in shelter, rehab or housing; convincing a group of campers to clean their space and bring it further back from the water (“We’ll get them inside soon,” she says); making a connection with a young pregnant woman who’s tired of living in a soggy tent behind a big box store; helping an elderly brother and sister apply for an open apartment in an affordable housing complex. “All my time at the Mary Isaak Center was well spent because I know how the system works and what the resources are,” she says.

Licensed Social Worker joins our permanent housing team

Starting this week, all the residents in our Integrity Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing programs will now have the opportunity to work with Lynea Seiberlich-Wheeler, our licensed clinical social worker and Director of COTS’ Coordinated Care program. She conducts a clinical assessment with each new client as he or she moves into housing, helping define goals, strengths and barriers. This helps our case managers identify appropriate resources and supports right off the bat.

Many landlords around Petaluma work with us to end homelessness in Sonoma County by making rooms and apartments available to our clients, and we are always looking for more. Thank you, landlords, for your support!

Housing Changes a Teen’s Future

Living in a shelter isn’t easy. Neither is high school. Put the two together, and you have a recipe for misery. Nobody could get Bruno to go to school when he and his family lived at our shelter.

They recently moved into permanent housing with COTS support, and Bruno is back in class! Get ready, SATs!

Daily Menus on Facebook

Nobody should have to live on ramen in order to stay housed. That’s why Mary’s Table at the Mary Isaak Center provides a free lunch to anyone in the community who needs it. We post our menus on Facebook every week day. You can find us at sonomacountycots. Please help us spread the word about our most delicious and healthy homeless prevention program. Warning: these posts will make you hungry!

Big band offers big help and lots of fun

The Windsor Jazz Ensemble is putting on a benefit concert for COTS on Sunday, April 7th in Healdsburg! Join the band for an afternoon of big band jazz and swing, wine, and delicious hors d’oeuvres. There will also be a raffle featuring fabulous prizes from Mayacama Resort, Mutt Lynch Winery, the Raven Theater, Comstock Winery, Chateau Diana, artists Wendy Brayton and Bill Gittens, Manduka Yoga Mats, and many more!

Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door. The event will take place at 235 Healdsburg Ave (previously Cafe Lucia) from 4pm-6:30pm. For tickets and more information, please visit, or contact Val Pustorino at All proceeds go to COTS. We hope to see you there!

February 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,

Our Business – Homelessness Point in Time Count

At 4:00 am on January 25th, volunteers, homeless guides, and staff from COTS and the County’s Community Development Commission started to assemble in the dining room of COTS’s Mary Isaak Center. It was time for the annual Point in Time count – the one day every January where teams of people are dispatched from eight points around Sonoma County to count the homeless – in cars, tents, parks, on the streets, under bridges, and abandoned buildings. This annual census helps determine how much funding we get from the federal and state government to provide homeless services. It also helps with strategic planning, capacity building, policy making, and advocacy campaigns to end homelessness.

Surveys are also done to gather demographic and other data that will show homeless information by area, gender, race/ethnicity, age, length of time homeless, where they lived prior to becoming homeless, events that led them to become homeless, obstacles to finding a home, health conditions, and much more.

Last year, the count was 2,996 in Sonoma County. The City of Santa Rosa had the most with 1,563 or 52%. Petaluma was 2nd with 285 or 10%. The total county wide count for 2017 was 2,835. Many believe that given what they see on the streets or in encampments, the actual count is higher.

The homeless guides who participated were either currently or formerly homeless. They help the volunteers identify the hard to find areas where people often sleep. On January 25th, I was a volunteer who drove two guides around a designated area to count. I encourage all of you to do this next year. It’s a chance to build a relationship with your guides, get to know them as human beings, understand their story, and to better understand homelessness. The guides I was with were truly wonderful and caring human beings.

Our Community

One of my favorite authors is Peter Block. In his book, Community – The Structure of Belonging, he talks about the importance of community leaders who hold themselves accountable to create a strong and connected community and make a difference. He says that community is about belonging and that belonging is about being a part of something, “a membership where you experience a kind of friendship, hospitality, and conviviality.” He also says that “to belong to a community is to act as creator and co-owner of that community – what I consider mine I will build and nurture.”

A significant part of my role is to build community relationships. Someone once said that “all business is about relationships.” One of the agencies I first met with when I arrived at COTS was Rebuilding Together Petaluma. They reached out to me. I didn’t know who they were or what they did. I quickly found out that they were led by two very capable, caring, and strong community leaders – Jane Hamilton and Victoria O’Riley. They shared what Rebuilding Together Petaluma does, how they serve the community and COTS, and what they needed from me and COTS. They were accountable, took ownership of their community, were making a difference, and were kind, friendly, and hospitable. They created a structure of belonging and membership. I also realized that we at COTS can do a better job of building relationships and being accountable to our communities.

Thank you Jane and Victoria for being accountable and for creating a community of belonging, friendship, and hospitality.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez

Are you homeless in Rohnert Park?

Are you homeless and looking for housing? Do you live in Sonoma County?

Fill out an application to see if you qualify for Rapid Re-Housing. After you submit this form, a COTS staff member will be in touch with you via email within a week.


Need help? Call (707) 765-6530 (option 1) or visit the Laure Reichek Housing Hub at 575 W. College Avenue in Santa Rosa, M - F 9am - noon.

We can help with

  • Security deposits
  • Case management
  • Housing search and location
  • Rent payments

Calling all landlords!

If you are a landlord and are interested in partnering with us, contact our Housing Team at or 707-765-6530 x 110.


Funding for this program has been provided by the City of Rohnert Park. COTS is a service provider contracting with the city to offer this service to Rohnert Park residents and those homeless in the City of Rohnert Park.

COTS Hour 2018

Join us for the annual COTS Hour, a fundraising breakfast benefiting homeless families, veterans and adults in Sonoma County.


7:30am Registration | 8:00am – 9:00am Program

New location: the DoubleTree Inn
1 DoubleTree Drive, Rohnert Park, CA

Register below, or call Eileen Morris: 707.765.6530 x128

How many guests (including you) will be in attendance?
If none, please type N/A

Thank you to our COTS Hour Sponsors!

After the fires - one year later

One year after the October 8 fires, our community wakes up to reflection.

It may be coupled with grief, perhaps anger, even frustration. Some of us may feel hopeful and grateful; others of us find ourselves lost in our memories, or perhaps finding ways to avoid them. 

There’s no shaking it: it’s been a hard year. It’s been physically hard, as many of us performed physical, manual labor to clean, sort, and physically care for others. And it’s been emotionally hard, as we pieced together our lives and supported our friends and neighbors to piece together theirs.

Alongside all of you, COTS and our sister agencies throughout Sonoma County, have coordinated resources, raised funds for the long haul, and established new programs to address the community’s expected need. We are slowly learning about the longer-term impacts, with 21,000 people reported to be precariously housed.

Today, I am filled with gratitude for the help you’ve given that has allowed us to double down on our efforts to make this community whole. Because of you, COTS opened the Laure Reichek Housing Hub in Santa Rosa that has, since July, housed 60 individuals. We continue to provide shelter for hundreds of people who need it, and permanent housing for hundreds more families and adults confronted with desperation. More than housing, each person we engage feels heard and supported by people who care. We watch mothers’ faces relax when they step into our offices and are offered a glass of water, a snack, and practical solutions. 

We continue to gather strength from all of you; from your generosity, your patience with each other, and the love you share every single day.

COTS remains a proud partner to our community -- today, tomorrow, and always.

Judy Tuhtan, COTS Board President

Together, we are making strides

Thank you to everyone who came out in July to celebrate and support the opening of the Laure Reichek Housing Hub in Santa Rosa to serve families and individuals impacted by last year's fires. In our first eight weeks of operation, we’ve housed 49 people, providing them with move-in assistance and time-limited rental assistance to give them a chance to get back on their feet.

Thanks to you, we’re ready to help at least 523 more people.

Support for this effort comes from The Tipping Point Community Emergency Relief Fund, the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, the County of Sonoma and many individuals, community groups and businesses.

New CEO Announced

We’re pleased to announce that Chuck Fernandez will join COTS as our new CEO. The former leader of Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa and in the East Bay, Chuck has a wealth of experience in nonprofit management and in providing compassionate, effective assistance to those experiencing homelessness. We can’t wait for you to meet him at The COTS Hour on November 13.


Don’t Hurry to your House. Stop by the Hen House!

We all deserve some TLC on a Monday afternoon, so mark your calendars for this Monday and swing by HenHouse Brewing Company. Thank you, Hen House Brewing, for your partnership on this event!

When: Monday, September 24, 2018 from 2pm - 9pm
Where: Hen House Brewing Company, 1333 North McDowell Blvd Petaluma
What: You’ll be supporting COTS while you relax in HenHouse’s light and airy tasting room. Come ready to win big, too. We’ll be raffling off beautiful prizes, including a one-of-a-kind quilt made by the Petaluma Quilters, an intimate tasting event at Balletto Vineyards, and a hand-crafted lamp, made by our staff member Robert Carson.

Dream Dining for COTS

Would you pay $20 for the chance to dine at Petaluma’s tastiest restaurants all year long?  Here's your chance!

Thanks to the folks at Century 21 Bundesen and a plethora of local restaurants, you can buy a raffle ticket for dining packages valued at $2400, $450 and $300.  For a full list of prizes and to find out how to purchase tickets, visit

We can’t thank the restaurant owners and Century 21 Bundesen enough for their contributions. Bundesen has always been a huge COTS supporter, but this is the firm’s largest effort for us ever.  All of the proceeds from the raffle go to COTS.

Warren and COTS co-founder Laure Reichek at the COTS 30th Birthday party.

Hooray for Warren Theuret!

We say a tough farewell, indeed, to our colleague Warren Theuret, who has kept our many facilities in good repair for over a decade. Nothing was too small or too large a job for Warren. He pulled toy cars out of drains, demolished walls, installed solar panels, pulled weeds, re-wired whole houses, installed bathrooms, deep cleaned, de-cluttered, and delivered on every promise he ever made. His final project before retiring is the ambitious remodel of the Mary Isaak Center second floor, which will soon house the medically fragile.

Special thanks to Warren for being a great colleague to his fellow staff members and an inspiration to our clients. Warren came to COTS in 2005 as a resident, and he mentored many people as they turned their lives around.

Read more about Warren's story.