Chuck's Virtual Coffee - May 2022

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

Permanent Supportive Housing

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

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

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

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

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

We’re just about at shelter capacity!

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

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

CEO Search

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

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - April 2022

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

Village Services Manager Stacie Questoni visiting with a client

Our Pathway to Housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - January 2022

Happy New Year! 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

My Focus for the Next 15 Months…

You may have seen the article last week in the Argus Courier announcing my retirement in April 2023. Here is a link to the official media release: https://cots.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/COTS-Jan-2022-Press-Release.pdf. By then, I will be 70 and it’s time for the next generation of leaders to lead this wonderful organization. Some have told me that 70 is the new 50. Perhaps. But it’s good for new leadership to come in with fresh ideas and a passion to selflessly serve our COTS team and those experiencing homelessness.

Why the long lead time? Our board of directors want to take every step necessary to ensure the right CEO continues to lead COTS and a national search can often take six months. And who knows how COVID will impact this process. The board is hiring an executive search firm and they will meet with different stakeholder groups – staff, community leaders, partner agencies, volunteers, and our cherished donors, to get their voice on what they feel are important skills and qualities in the next CEO. In the spirit of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), it is essential that stakeholders are included in the process, have a space for their important voice, be communicated with about progress, and that all candidates have an equal and fair chance. The board also wants some overlap, with the new CEO and me, to help ensure a smooth transition. And all of that takes time.

So, my focus for the next 15 months will be to continue to address the ever-growing concerns of homelessness. It seems the more Sonoma County tries, the challenges still persists. Thankfully, we have some solutions around the corner, like our tiny homes project called People’s Village. We are also working on other housing solutions that will make a difference.

COTS was founded in 1988 by Mary Isaak, Laure Reichek, and a team of dedicated and compassionate volunteers who had concerns for children and adults who were sleeping outdoors in culverts, dumpsters, and other unsafe and unsuitable conditions. COTS has come a long way, and we still have much work to do. The next CEO will continue the long tradition of vision, excellence, collaboration, and innovative services provided by Mary, Laure, and all those who have helped since then. The future of COTS is very bright.

Tiny Homes and Managing Our Expectations

Have you ever remodeled your kitchen, bathroom, or even an entire house? Did everything go as planned and on schedule? Did all the appliances, cabinets, bathroom fixtures, various materials, and even the sub-contractors arrive as planned? Probably not. Frustrating yes, but that is the nature of remodeling and construction. Stuff happens no matter how well-intentioned and thought out a plan is. And then add COVID and the Great Resignation to that mix. Welcome to our tiny home project known as People’s Village.

Our People’s Village Team – City of Petaluma, COTS, various contractors, and QuickHaven are all doing their very best. Four tiny home units have been delivered (unassembled) and six more will be delivered next week. But we have to be patient as there are site improvements that must be done before we can assemble the units. We are going to do this the right way, even if that means taking more time. That patience will make operating the units and serving our guests more effective and efficient. We will get there. We just need to manage our expectations.

Thank you, John McEntee

COTS Director of Facilities John McEntee is helping to lead the efforts to get People’s Village up and running. Every major project needs a project leader who is steady, calm, and can handle the many problems and delays that seem to plague construction projects and do it all with seemingly ease and confidence. John McEntee is that person for COTS. While he can get frustrated because he wants to see this project up and running so we can get people off the streets, he’s a professional, he understands his craft very well, and he knows how to handle problems with staffing, delays, miscommunication, contractors, scheduling, and so much more. Thank you so much John for being our leader on this project. We all appreciate and are grateful for you.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - December 2021

Happy Holidays! 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

Being Intentional About Culture…

As we close 2021 and reflect on another year of COVID, I wanted to share with you my biggest learning of the year – and that is the importance of being intentional about creating a healthy culture at COTS. Our news is filled with stories about “toxic cultures” in business, sports teams, and other types of organizations. The reasons are many, but they typically start with the CEO, President, founder of the company, or a department head, usually someone with power and influence. Sadly, this seems to be the norm instead of the exception.

So, what is culture and why is it so important, especially in the current “great resignation” environment? And what can we do, as non-profit leaders, to prevent this from happening in our organization?

As business leader Peter Ashworth said, culture is a company’s only “unique identifier.” At COTS, we provide homeless services such as shelter, case management, and street outreach. We also have administrative services like accounting, grant writing, and fundraising. But other homeless organizations have the same thing. What we do is not unique. It can easily be replicated. Lots of companies make cars or electronic items, or provide services like legal, real estate, or financial assistance. Even innovation can be replicated. But the only unique identifier of a company that cannot be replicated is its culture. A vibrant, healthy, and positive culture differentiates a company from its competitors.

Culture is about your shared values, beliefs, and norms. It includes things like your policies, procedures, expectations, code of conduct, opportunities to advance, even disciplinary actions. It’s formed in part by how the leaders communicate and interact with employees; what they communicate and emphasize; their vision for the future; how the organization is managed – its systems, structure, hierarchy, controls, goals; and workplace practices like recruiting and retaining staff, compensation and benefits, rewards and recognition, training, and advancing and promotions. Culture is also formed by the people you hire – their personalities, diverse skills and experience, and behaviors; and even the office layout – artifacts, color of the walls, furniture. And of course, the clarity of the mission, vision, and values play a large role in forming a culture.

Healthy cultures have transparent communication; have trust, cooperation, and collaboration; minimal internal politics; less complexity that can lead to faster execution; a strong sense of identification; and work toward a common goal. Weak cultures have the opposite and hire employees who don’t fit; don’t create and communicate a clear and inspiring mission, vision, and values; have lackluster work environments; and tolerate management styles that threaten employee engagement and retention.

So why am I sharing all this? Because we’re facing the biggest talent crisis in years. People are no longer competing for jobs. Instead, companies are now competing for people. For the longest time, people felt disconnected from their work, faced burnout, low morale, were underpaid and under-appreciated. COVID caused people to rethink their passions, and many are leaving their jobs and making career changes.

Some organizations let their culture form organically and without defining what they want it to be. And that’s a mistake. Culture is a strategy and if a company wants a competitive edge, high morale, employee satisfaction and engagement, a safe environment where team members feel valued and respected, and have a voice, then a company needs to be intentional about building a healthy culture. The best prevention during the “great resignation,” is to create a healthy culture.

I continue to learn every day what it takes to humbly lead this great organization. And I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes. The best people want to work for and with the best organization. And while we have made much progress, we still have work to do. Building a healthy culture is never ending. Because we have the best people at COTS, I want to make sure we create the best culture and environment for them – our compassionate and dedicated staff, our volunteers, our board of directors, our donors and investors, and our fabulous community.

At COTS, our culture is our personality. And if all of the norms, behaviors, and policies, etc. listed above are the structure of COTS, then the soul of COTS is our culture. Thank you for making that a reality.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Volunteer Profile: Katie Haas

Katie-Haas

When Katie Haas was growing up in San Francisco, kids used to knock on the door and ask if her Dad could come out to play. It might have hurt Katie’s feelings back then, but now she’s grateful for the love of kids and play that her Dad gave her.

She’s shared that love with COTS for over ten years in lots of different ways.

Right now, we think she’s in her perfect role. Katie’s a wonderful artist herself, who works in acrylics and collage, so we’re thrilled to have her as part of the art team at the Kids First Family Center. Once a week, she joins a coordinator from our nonprofit partner Drawbridge to help kids create paintings, sculptures, calendars, light catchers—you name it.

“I’ve loved art since I was little,” Katie says. “It’s been of core importance in my life. I think in our culture we don’t value it as much as we should. I’m glad I can show children that art is something to value and that you can grow from art.”

Katie says she grows from the art sessions, too, and singles out Drawbridge Coordinator Susie Butler as an inspiration. “She knows how to connect with a huge open heart,” Katie says. “I learn from her. She knows the right things to say to make them [the kids] feel self-confident. She’ll compliment them in a really honest way. She just makes them feel seen and loved.”

When not at COTS and not absorbed in her own art-making, Katie has plenty to do, much of with her family. She cares for her aging mom, volunteers with Hospice, helps paint the scenery at Cinnabar Theater, sings in a choir, and, together her husband Al (also a COTS volunteer) produces a small folk concert series in her living room.

Right now, Katie is creating a series of paintings inspired by her father’s childhood class pictures. “They’re from the thirties. I love how in those days you were just who you were in front of the camera. You didn’t smile because you were being photographed like people do today. You smiled because you felt like it. These kids, their expressions, you feel like you could almost read their minds. I feel really connected with them.” Visit katiehaasartstudio.com to feel that connection yourself.

Katie encourages people to give volunteering a try. “Being homeless seems really horrible. I think I just recognize that suffering people need other people. We all like to feel like we’re helping out.”

Thank you, Katie!

Show your support by donating today!

Want to read more stories about our volunteers? Visit our volunteer appreciation homepage by clicking here!

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Volunteer Profile: Tracey Rose

tracey-rose

Tracey Rose does a lot of planning and preparation for her art sessions at Kid First Family Shelter.

We have kids of all ages and interests staying with us, and Tracey creates a variety of projects to make their minds jump and their fingers itch. Sometimes, she’ll have a happy crowd in her workshops: joyful, focused kids drawing, pasting and painting.

But the families that stay at the shelter often have challenges around transportation or scheduling. And sometimes a kid will be there, but he’ll want to play a video game—not draw. So, sometimes Tracey will work with a smaller, quieter group.

The last time she came, there was only Angelina, a curly-haired 5-year-old girl who wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her afternoon.

“I kind of grabbed her,” Tracey says. “’I have lots of fun things’ I told her. ‘Do you want to do art?’” Like a true professional, Tracey gave Angelina a great time. She had three projects with her that day and Angelina chose to make a necklace. Tracey helped her design her pattern, string the beads and secure it around her neck. “She was showing it off. She loved it,” Tracey says.

“But I was feeling disappointed. When you’re planning, you always have an idea of how things are going to go. And this wasn’t it. I wanted more kids.”

Then Angelina asked: “Why do you come here?”

“It was great that she asked me that,” Tracey says. “I thought about it. She made me think about it. And I told her it’s because I love creating art and I love sharing with people. Her smile after that was so big.”

Then Angelina wanted to do more. They made a bracelet for her mom to match the necklace Angelina had made for herself. Her Dad teased and asked where his present was. Tracey and the little girl quickly made him a Valentine’s rock.

“My face hurt I was smiling so hard,” Tracey says. “To be able to give a child something to hang onto, something to create, the opportunity to say, ‘Look what I did and I’m giving it to you,’ that’s wonderful. It lifted her. It made her laugh. What’s better than that?”

We are grateful that Tracey gifts us with her talent, her joy and her flexibility. We are grateful for the lift she provides the kids at COTS—sometimes for many of them, and sometimes for just one precious girl.

COTS kids are not the only ones to benefit from Tracey’s generosity. You can find her reading stories in the children’s area at Copperfield’s once a month. She’s the one who brings in her own stick puppets and her felt board and characters. She’s also a volunteer for Verity, providing outreach education for grade school kids on the difficult topics of staying safe and being body aware. And she volunteers with Marin’s Bread and Roses, shepherding great bands to convalescent hospitals, schools, community centers and shelters.

She and her husband Jeremy are both teachers, but both have had long and varied careers, and Tracey has never been far from a paint brush, sewing machine or paper bead jewelry. They met at Cinnabar Theater in the 1970s. Tracey was starring in “Spoon River Anthology” and her soon-to-be-husband Jeremy was designing and running the lights. By the time the next production was in rehearsal, they’d married. Living in Marin, they raised two talented and “fierce” daughters. They moved back to Petaluma 14 years ago and celebrate their 43rd anniversary this year.

Thank you, Tracey!

Show your support by donating today!

Want to read more stories about our volunteers? Visit our volunteer appreciation homepage by clicking here!

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Chuck's Virtual Coffee - March 2020

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.

This month’s newsletter is arriving earlier than usual, given the uncertainty we face today and my belief in the need to communicate our action steps around COVID-19 with our COTS family. Together, I know that we can meet the challenge of this moment and keep each other safe in the weeks and months to come.

All my best,
Chuck

Virus Prevention Plan – Vigilance While Caring for Each Other

People experiencing homelessness already have compromised physical, mental, and emotional systems. Living on the streets or in encampments with poor hygiene and dietary habits only makes matters worse. For those coming into a shelter environment and living in a congregate environment with 100 other shelter residents, practicing “social distancing” is difficult. And because our staff work with our clients every day, we are taking the threat of a rapidly spreading virus very seriously and with an overabundance of caution.

Three weeks ago, we issued Virus Prevention Protocols for all staff, shelter residents, guests, and volunteers of COTS. We received input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The National Alliance to End Homelessness, The Petaluma Health Center, and Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

We are cleaning and wiping down shelter countertops, doors, sinks, and shower handles, and mopping floors with disinfectant multiple times a day. We installed a portable hand washing station outside the dining room and posted flyers throughout the shelter and bathrooms about washing your hands. We implemented new questions for new clients to the shelter such as if they’ve experienced shortness of breath, coughing, or fever within the last two weeks. Thankfully, we have a strong partnership with the Petaluma Health Center where we will refer those clients. We also ordered and installed more hand sanitizer dispensers, wipes, and other disinfectant supplies.

Staff are also wiping down high touch areas like keyboards, phones, desk surfaces, and chair handles. We will continue to refine our protocols as the situation changes.

In good times and in bad, our community relies on nonprofits to serve the most vulnerable. Our goal at COTS will remain the same – to get people off the streets and out of our shelter and into housing to realize stable, productive, and fulfilled lives. We’ve been through two fires before and we will get through this by being calm, thoughtful, and hyper-vigilant about health and safety. As humans, we are at our best when we stay interconnected and love and care for each other.

Ride-a-Long with Petaluma Police Department

Last week, COTS Outreach Specialist Jeff Schueller, Downtown Streets Team Director Karen Strolia, and myself accompanied Lt. Tim Lyons of the Petaluma Police Department (PPD) on his late night rounds of homeless encampments in Petaluma. It’s one thing to see the visible homeless walking the streets during the day but something totally different to see where they sleep at night and call home. Under highways, in thick brush, outside the entrance to businesses, empty homes, behind garbage containers, river banks, on top of buildings, and other very creative spaces…and often amongst much rubbish and filth. Lt. Lyons and one other police officer took three hours of their valuable time showing us over a dozen camps, and sadly, there were many more.

One person we met was from Alabama whose brother was a professional bass fisherman; another was living in a small wooden container and did odd jobs during the day for several businesses; another was living in the bushes with his dog and was a writer. Everyone we talked with did not want to come into a shelter. They preferred their freedom without rules. All had mental health challenges.

Lt. Lyons has been with PPD for thirty years and absolutely loves his job – and it shows. He was kind, caring, and very patient with everyone we met…and of course he knew their names. Some he had been working with for over twenty years. I asked Tim and Karen if they ever give up hope with the people on the streets, if some people just simply cannot be helped. And their response was an emphatic “never.” They firmly believe that everyone can be helped to lead stable and productive lives. Some just need special, more individualized services than others, but all can be helped.

As we moved from camp to camp, one thing became very clear – together with the Downtown Streets Team and Karen, PPD and truly caring people like Lt. Tim Lyons, Jeff Schueller, and our wonderful community, we can and will resolve homelessness in Petaluma.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - February 2020

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

Funding Cuts by the County

You’ve probably read that the County of Sonoma will reduce funding to homeless service providers by 34% beginning July 1, 2020. They just don’t have as much funding to distribute as they did the previous year. They also mentioned that funding for the following year, 21-22, will likely be reduced. It’s too early to tell what impact Governor Newsom’s homeless funding proposal will have on Sonoma County. For now, the reduction is unfortunate and it’s also a reality of nonprofit life.

Over the past 14+ months, we’ve made many staff changes and department restructures to be as cost efficient and program effective as possible. We looked for opportunities to improve coordination, cooperation, and outcomes. Those changes put us in a position to better weather these types of cuts. Each person is responsible and accountable for their job, the expectations and outcomes as outlined in their job description, and to each other and their clients. We cannot carry anyone who is not. We also intentionally strengthened and invested in our revenue generating departments of Grants and Development to create stability and sustainability. Good stewardship means spending more time, not less, on grants, fundraising, and other administrative responsibilities like compliance and quality improvement, data, metrics, and outcomes.

COTS is blessed as private funding continues to be strong and our community continues to believe in and support our Mission and Vision. We are grateful for you. Thank you.

How do nonprofits survive and thrive in an ever-changing funding environment that allows them to achieve their Mission, not change who they are just to qualify for a grant, and perhaps not be a traditional charitable organization?

I’m often asked why nonprofits don’t merge with each other. If there are 10,000 nonprofit organizations each serving 100 clients, should there instead be 100 nonprofit organizations each serving 10,000 clients more cost efficiently and with improved impact?

As we move forward, we will consider all of this and more to ensure that we are responsible stewards of your cherished investment in COTS and that we continue to help people transition from homelessness to a permanent home.

Clockwise from upper left: Development Manager Eileen Morris, Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix, Chef Janin Harmon, and Facilities Manager John McEntee

Roundtable by Congressman Jared Huffman

On Monday, Congressman Jared Huffman was at COTS conducting a Roundtable. We were delighted to host the Congressman and about 22 community leaders from Sonoma County. The Congressman wanted to know how he, on a federal level, can support effective homeless and housing strategies in our County through funding, policy, and advocacy. He was looking for solutions.

There were lots of suggestions and concerns raised. The need for sustainable funding instead of just for one or two years; the noticeable rise in hate speech and violence towards those experiencing homelessness; the need to push people out of their comfort zones and to force the conversation to solutions; that homelessness has negative impacts on the environment; that there needs to be a more coordinated and organized continuum of services and not organizations and services working in silos; that we need much more funding to solve challenges with mental health and substance abuse and addiction. The Congressman is having these Roundtables throughout his District to better inform him of the challenges we are facing and some possible solutions.

Hosting your Congressman is no easy feat. At the same time as the Roundtable was going on, we had a training ten feet away to prepare for our Annual Point in Time Count being done on Friday. This is where hundreds of people go to all parts of Sonoma County at 5am to count those experiencing homelessness. On top of that, we have to care for and feed over 112 homeless residents for breakfast and lunch. Our staff and shelter residents did a beautiful job with the logistics of parking, cleaning the shelter to be presentable, ensuring residents are fed, hosting two simultaneous events, and appearing calm and controlled during it all.

So much thanks goes to our staff and shelter residents for a smooth-running morning. Special thanks goes to Development Manager Eileen Morris, Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix, Facilities Manager John McEntee, and our chef Janin Harmon for taking charge and working with their teams on the many details behind the scenes. Many of us were excited to host this event and there was a real sense of pride in showing off the Mary Isaak Center.

Another busy and satisfying day at COTS.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez


COTS Day Use Services for Evacuees

Dear COTS Community,

Please spread the word: Evacuees are welcome to use the Mary Isaak Center, 900 Hopper Street, Petaluma for showers, laundry, meals and phone charging. All services are free.

Showers and laundry services are available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Please note that our washing machines are few, so you may have a wait.

COTS is now also serving three meals a day to anyone who is hungry. Meal hours are below:

Breakfast: 7:30 to 9 a.m.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Dinner: 5 and 6 p.m.

Volunteers Needed!

If you’re a regular COTS volunteer, we could use your help coordinating laundry and showers. Please get in touch with the front desk: 707-765-6530 x120.

We would be very grateful for the following donated items to help us serve the community:

• Towels and wash cloths
• Shampoo, body wash
• Bedding/sleeping bags
• Laundry detergent
• Toilet paper
• N95 masks

Thank you to everyone in our community who is pitching in to help those who have been evacuated due to the fires. Thanks especially to our first responders who are keeping us safe. Together, we are proud to be Sonoma Strong!


Chuck's Virtual Coffee - September 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

Housing First is Not Housing Only

The Housing First (HF) approach is based on three core principles. One is that homelessness is primarily a housing problem and housing is the foundation for life improvement. Once basic necessities are met like shelter, food, warmth, and security, and the person is no longer in crisis wondering where they are going to eat or sleep, then they can concentrate and get the help they need. The second principle is the importance of removing barriers to get housing such as addiction, lack of income, or a criminal background. These issues are best addressed once housed.

The third principle, and what I believe to be the most critical to successful HF, is intense case management or wrap-around services to address their many needs. This is what will determine if a person will remain stably and successfully housed. Why is this so important?

After years of living on the streets, learning to live in an apartment is not as simple as unlocking the door and walking in. Housing comes with rules – no smoking, paying rent on time, cleaning your place, and simple things like taking your keys when you leave. Formerly homeless individuals are now living by someone else’s rules – the landlord’s. Living on the streets is different – you have no keys, you live hour by hour, there are no bills to pay. Leaving the streets means abandoning the past and imagining a new future. It means learning how to shop, making a budget, and planning ahead. Loneliness can also set in because friends are still on the streets or in shelters. That guilt can trigger old behaviors. All of this can be more challenging than living on the streets.

Given the economics of Sonoma County and the lack of affordable housing, just finding a place to live is difficult, so once you get a place, you need to do everything possible to keep it. This is where intense case management comes in – to help recondition people’s behaviors, help people become accountable and responsible for apartment living, and think differently. Someone said that a formerly homeless person could fall in and out of housing two or three times before they finally get it right. With intense case management, hopefully we can get it right the first time.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Have your parents ever said, “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Mine did – meaning don’t judge a person’s value or humanity by an outward appearance.

I’ve known Jimmy, one of our clients at the Mary Isaak Center, for almost ten years. I first met him while working for another shelter organization in Santa Rosa. The shelter desperately needed lots of beautification on the inside – painting, changing lights, fixing bathrooms, and more. Of course we had little money to do the work. So I asked about volunteers and Jimmy jumped in to help. He had experience with “handyman” type work. Jimmy was an absolute delight to work with and be around – forever positive, high energy, always wanting to help, showing up on time and working until the job is done. When someone needed help, Jimmy was there.

I saw Jimmy last week at the Mary Isaak Center. I’ve not seen him for several years. Still on the streets, still struggling with addiction, but still positive, upbeat, and energetic. He said he feels safe at COTS. He wants help and said, “we all want help.” He said the food is good at COTS, in fact he’s gained nine pounds. He looks good and healthy. Jimmy is also bald, has a goatee, wears a tank top, and has lots of tattoos. He said people walk on the other side of the street when they see him because they’re afraid of the way he looks. That hurts Jimmy. He’s taking steps to get rid of his tattoos.

Like many of us, I’ve been guilty of judging people by their appearance. And when I took the time…when I “opened the book” and got to know their story, I saw I was wrong in how I pre-judged them. My parents also said, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” I got to know Jimmy and I’m glad I did – he has a heart of gold.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez