Ensuring Stability and Hope: How COTS Supports Children’s Education

In a world of constant change and uncertainty, education stands as a beacon of hope and opportunity. For children experiencing homelessness, the importance of staying in school cannot be overstated.

Amidst the challenges and hardships that come with homelessness, maintaining a consistent education can provide a lifeline to stability, empowerment, and a brighter future. That’s why, at COTS, Care Manager Wendy Lindberg works so diligently to support children’s education.

When a new family moves in to KFFS, one of the priorities is their children’s education.  If the family is from out of town, Wendy will register their children in the Petaluma School District.  If the family is local and prefers to stay at their home school, she reaches out to that school district to start work on a transportation plan.

The McKinney Vento Act requires that school districts provide transportation for students experiencing homelessness and that may be in the form of a bus ride, gas cards or even a driving service like Uber.  It can take weeks for a plan to come into place, so in the meantime Wendy supports our parents by assisting with school drop off and pick up.

Wendy also helps our KFFS families navigate the difficult terrain of getting an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for children.  She helps families gather documentation, brings them to appointments and acts as an advocate when needed. She shared how proud she is of the families both at currently at KFFS and those recently housed who set up IEPs with her assistance and are continuing them.

We’re so grateful to Wendy for the incredible work she does supporting our families. By prioritizing children’s education, COTS offers our families stability and hope.

By investing in COTS, you are investing in the education of children, we are investing in a future where potential knows no bounds and where the cycle of homelessness can be broken, one child at a time. We invite you to support this life changing work

Volunteers Make A Difference!

While we believe that Wendy is super woman, KFFS is also fortunate to have community support from volunteers who go above and beyond for our families.  We have volunteers who provide after school homework assistance and organized-play.  It’s an incredible opportunity for community members to support our families and ensure that children stay on top of their schoolwork. Community groups like the Petaluma Valley Rotary Club and Active 20/30 Club also provide material needs to our families.  This August both groups helped provide backpacks, school supplies, school clothes and more for the families at KFFS.

This winter, more groups will come together to support our families over the Holidays.  To learn more about how your or your community groups can get involved, email [email protected].

Recently, a past client called to share with me the progress they were making with  their child’s speech therapy, thanks to their IEP.  It’s so gratifying to see our families doing so well.”  Wendy Lindberg

Ashley's Story

At COTS, we love to celebrate our teammates’ successes. So when HUD-PSH (Permanent Supportive Housing) Care Manager Ashley Lovejoy got into her first choice nursing program, the whole team erupted in a series of congratulatory emails. 

“I’ve always naturally been drawn to medicine,” she says. In spite of this, the journey to nursing school has not been simple, or easy. 

“I grew up on and off homeless my whole life, like my whole childhood,” she says. “When I was in high school, my family actually lived in a COTS house. So that’s how I knew about COTS, was my experience with them when I was young.

“I had a great experience with COTS and the caseworkers. They were very encouraging of me, [even when] my mom was encouraging me to drop out of high school when I had a 4.0.”

In spite of her mother’s drug addiction, and with the support of her COTS case manager, Ashley finished high school. She then attempted Sonoma State, but dropped out after taking on too many advanced classes. She got married, then divorced, worked in England and Denmark, and is now a single mom of four boys. 

After her divorce, she and her kids moved back to the States. “Within a couple of weeks of moving back here, I went back to school at the JC. And in a couple of years, I went back to Sonoma State and got my Bachelor’s in Sociology.“

Last May, her journey brought her back to COTS, when she joined the team as our HUD-PSH Care Manager. “I told everyone coming in that I wanted to work for COTS because of my history with COTS, and because I wanted to make a difference,” she says. 

Prior to working at COTS, Ashley’s love of children had always drawn her to pediatrics. But her experience working with clients in the Permanent Supportive Housing program quickly changed all that. “After working for COTS and then working with the clients that I have, building that relationship, I’ve decided I’m specializing in adult geriatrics now, because I see such a need,” she says. 

“I’ve seen with my clients, how fearful a lot of them are. [A lot of our clients are] very hesitant [to seek medical care] because they feel judged. I have one who, once he left the Mary Isaac Center, he refused to see a doctor. Any time he saw one, [he’d say] ‘They don’t care about me.’”

Not willing to give up, Ashley approached Nurse Annie Nicols, who gave her a personal recommendation for a nurse practitioner, and the client agreed to go. “Now he’s been getting medical care for his chronic conditions because of that trust he has in her,” Ashley says. “That’s part of what motivated me to go back [to school for nursing].”

For Ashley, having the Petaluma Health Center on campus has been invaluable in helping her clients. While she doesn’t know where she’ll end up after nursing school, “I would love to go back and work with the Petaluma Health Center,” she says. “My kids have always gone there, and I love the fact that they work with COTS.”

Ashley’s lived experience with homelessness gives her a valuable connection to her clients, one she hopes she’ll be able to bring with her into her nursing practice. “I can connect, and I’m able to build such trust with all of my clients now,” she says. “I’m in a unique position where if I were to come back and work with this population, I feel like I’d be able to hopefully be someone that they felt they could trust. So that is kind of my long term goal.”

When asked what her favorite thing about her job at COTS is, she said, “I love the people. Every every one of our clients have such interesting and unique backgrounds. I’ve got one that I’ve helped enroll in school, and he’s back to school for the first time in like 45-50 years, and he’s getting an Associate’s Degree. I have another one that is going to go to school to become a minister, that’s his passion. It’s really amazing to see.”

We are grateful to have Ashley on our team for the rest of her time leading up to nursing school, and when it’s time, we wish her luck on her next adventure.

Suzy's Story

Suzy’s Story 

Suzy lived a regular life.  She had a job, a car, and an apartment that she shared with her son. But after a medical event left her son with a traumatic brain injury and unable to work, it became harder to stay housed.   

Eventually, Suzy and her son became homeless.  “I’m from Petaluma, so I’ve always known about COTS” Suzy said, but it was a worker at Petaluma Health Center that encouraged the family to apply to COTS.  While her son began his journey to sobriety at COTS, Suzy hid her addiction to alcohol.    

Her alcoholism got the best of her, and Suzy had to leave COTS.  “I lived in a tent under an overpass for a month.  I was still drinking and was so dehydrated, I had hallucinations.  I had to go to the hospital. I was so sick and weak.”  Suzy was discharged and her son started bringing her the to-go meals COTS offers and eventually she started coming back to COTS for meals herself, applied to live at the COTS shelter again, and she made a commitment to sobriety. 

Suzy met our Head Chef, Janin, who listened to her story and encouraged Suzy to start volunteering in the kitchen.  That’s when things began to change.  Little by little, she regained her strength and sense of self.   

“They took care of me, I got stronger every day, so I could do more and more. And it became a family. And then it reached the point where I was doing it [volunteering] because I wanted to, not because it was air conditioned.  I was doing it because there’s such camaraderie in the kitchen. I had lost myself, and being here with people who care about you, and where you are giving back was, it changed my life. It allowed me a place to kind of heal and find myself. So, it’s a rescue story.” 

Today, Suzy is celebrating over three months of sobriety.  She credits the staff at COTS for making her feel supported and cared for.  When she’s not preparing food in the kitchen, she’s helping pass out dinner.  Suzy sees individuals she met while living in an encampment and encourages them to come inside.  She wants others to know that even when they aren’t sure about COTS, or when the journey back to housing feels insurmountable, that they should try.  “They’ve just forgotten that they can. Because I, I kind of did. I forgot that I could do all this. I can, even though I [was] lost. This says that it has nothing to do with my future. Again, I can set that aside and say from here, I can go forward.” 

Housing is Suzy’s next step, and she is hoping to stay in Petaluma so that she can continue to volunteer.  “I want be a core volunteer, that’s how much this place means to me.”   

COTS is so grateful to the staff who didn’t give up on Suzy and who are continuing to support her in her journey back to housing.  Thank you to the many supporters who made this work possible for Suzy and so many others.   

The COTS Collective: July 2023

Beyond Shelter: Pets at People’s Village

COTS is proud to offer various innovative programs to best help our clients every day. Each COTS client has a unique story, and all our programs are designed to be flexible in meeting the needs of those we serve. Programs like People’s Village provide interim housing to people experiencing homelessness—offering a safe and secure place for individuals to focus on improving their well-being and self-sufficiency.

Having pets can be a beacon of hope for those experiencing homelessness and People’s Village is one of the few temporary housing options available which allows pets, eliminating a barrier often faced by people experiencing homelessness.


Read on to learn more about our client Brandon, and his dog Izzy, in our Mission Moment.

Until next time,

Chris Cabral

[email protected]

Mission Moment—Who Rescued Who?

Brandon first came to COTS in 2017, but the challenges in his life kept him from permanent housing. Then in 2023, when he was living at a camp in Cloverdale, COTS Outreach staff shared with him about an opportunity to live at People’s Village.

So, he decided to give it a try.  Since animals are allowed at People’s Village, he knew he could work on finding housing, his recovery and rescue a puppy living at the encampment. Brandon knew he wanted to save one of the pups, but it turns out, she saved him too.

Brandon came to COTS using opiates but knew he couldn’t care for a dog in his current state.  He detoxed and gained his sobriety. Then went back to save Izzy, a special pup with two spots on her back shaped like hearts.  She was just three weeks old. Brandon bottle-fed her and cared for her around the clock.  She kept him busy and focused, two things needed to keep him sober.

“[She’s] kept me from going back out and doing stuff I shouldn’t be doing. It’s definitely helped me through those moments when you don’t really know who to talk to you, but these dogs are there. You know, there’s no judgment that comes from her either. That’s the greatest part.”

Brandon worked with his Care Manager, Stacie Questioni, on his individual action plan and Client Enrichment Services Manager, Eileen Morris helped Brandon, an army veteran, secure a housing voucher through Veteran’s Affairs.  “Eileen has been a huge help. The biggest help when it comes to housing… She’s a rock star.”

Today, Brandon is continuing his search for housing and working hard at taking care of Izzy.  He’s an excellent dog parent, keeping an active five month old puppy busy and well-trained.

Brandon’s ready for the stability of permanent housing, a home for him and Izzy. “My hope is to just keep it [housing], I’m done with being back on the streets.”   We are so proud of the work Brandon is doing to find housing and can’t wait for the day when he has a home to call his own.

Thank you for your support of innovative programs like People’s Village and our Client Enrichment Program that create opportunities for clients like Brandon.  We are so grateful of your support of our vision to create a community where everyone has a place to call home.


Chris Cabral, CEO

The COTS Collective: June 2023

Celebrating Six Months

In January, I stepped into the COTS Chief Executive Officer role following Chuck Fernandez. Chuck left big shoes to fill and had built an incredible team of professionals to move the COTS mission forward. I wanted to take a moment to thank Chuck for his work here at COTS, and to celebrate the first six months of 2023. We have already accomplished so much!

So far in 2023, the COTS team has updated its program policies to be more inclusive, helping our clients achieve greater success on their unique pathways to housing. We have laid the foundation for a large expansion of both our Recuperative Care program, and our Permanent Supportive Housing program. By Spring of 2024, COTS will have expanded its Recuperative Care capacity by more than 200% and will have added 14 new units of permanent supportive housing in Sonoma County. The COTS team held its first in-person fundraiser since 2019, strengthened its community partnerships, and worked alongside Burbank Housing in the opening of a new 60-unit permanent supportive housing project in Petaluma. We have onboarded several talented team members, started a new 5-year strategic plan, and increased our capacity to serve each unique client in ways most meaningful to them.

We are looking forward to our next six months. If you are interested in joining us as a volunteer, donating to our critical mission, or learning more about upcoming events, please visit our website at www.cots.org.

Until next time,

Chris Cabral

[email protected]

Mission Moment—A Staff Highlight: Stacie Questoni

COTS could not accomplish all we do without an incredible team of dedicated staff members. We want to take a moment to celebrate Stacie Questoni, the People’s Village Services Manager. Since 2020, Stacie has been an invaluable member of the COTS team.

Ask anyone at COTS about Stacie and you’re sure to elicit smiles, laughter, and words of genuine love and camaraderie. Stacie helps our clients navigate their pathway to housing and has worked to help dozens of unsheltered community members find permanent housing right here in Sonoma County.

We asked Stacie to share a bit about herself and her work at COTS. Keep reading to learn more about Stacie’s passion for our work.

What do you love most about working at COTS?

First and foremost, I love the mission of COTS. I love the collaboration I have with my community partners, my coworkers, and my incredible boss. I love being in the role of helping others help themselves, giving them the tools and services they need to make better life decisions and seeing them blossom. COTS has a family feel to it and they care about you as a person and put your self-care as a priority.

Can you tell us about a recent client success story?

We have had many success stories in the short time People’s Village has been open. We have had 63 residents come through the program and 18 of those residents have been housed since the inception of the program March 2021.

One gentleman who has been highly resistant to services finally agreed to come into People’s Village. He stayed in our program for longer than a year, getting his medical issues taken care of, and working with VA. Due to the flexibility of our program, he was able to have the time he needed to work on those issues and COTS was able to get his VA discharge corrected so he could qualify for a VA housing voucher. Now, he is housed!

A female resident who has been unsheltered in the community since 2009 finally decided to come to COTS for services. She worked with staff to address her substance use, and after extensive engagements and a stay at People’s Village, she now has permanent housing at the new Studios at Montero program in Petaluma, CA.

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my two adult sons, Dario and Luca. I enjoy traveling, (last year I went to Guatemala and New York, this year Boston and to be determined) spending time with my friends, hiking, camping, listening to live music, spa days, gardening, reading, and watching documentaries.

What would you like to see for People’s Village in the next three years?

I would like to see more mental health resources at People’s Village and in the community. I would also love to see an expansion of the program by adding additional tiny homes for people in need.

A big thanks to Stacie for all of her hard work and compassionate care to those we serve. Keep up the amazing work, Stacie!


Chris Cabral, CEO

The COTS Collective: May 2023

Celebrating a Successful Hops for Homes Fundraiser

In April, COTS hosted its annual Hops for Homes fundraiser at Brewster’s Beer Garden in downtown Petaluma. We are incredibly grateful to those who came to the event, and humbled by those who continue to show such strong support for our critical programs. We raised over $95,000 and enjoyed a fun-filled evening celebrating COTS’ 35th anniversary. All funds raised are used to provide essential services, programs, and resources to individuals and families experiencing homelessness in our community.

Hops for Homes brought together community members, elected officials, volunteers, staff members, and generous donors who are committed to making a positive impact on the lives of those in need. We shared stories of hope and resilience, highlighting the continued need for innovative solutions to ending homelessness in Sonoma County. The event was a resounding success—many attendees expressed their support and enthusiasm for COTS’ mission and thanked our speakers for sharing their inspiring stories.

“We are incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support we received at this year’s fundraiser,” said Erin Krueger, Development Director at COTS. “The funds raised will enable us to continue providing vital services and resources to those experiencing homelessness in Petaluma and the rest of Sonoma County. Together, we are making a significant difference in the lives of individuals and families, helping them move toward self-sufficiency and a brighter future.

To learn more about the services COTS offers, please visit our website here.

On behalf of COTS, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all event attendees, donors, volunteers, staff, and community partners who contributed to the success of Hops for Homes. Your generosity and dedication exemplify the spirit of compassion and unity that defines the Sonoma County community.

We hope to see all of you at next year’s fundraiser!

Until next time,

Chris Cabral

Mission Moment—Studios at Montero Brings Hope for New Tenants

“Welcome Home” balloons greeted clients – along with staff from COTS and Burbank Housing – at the Studios at Montero soft opening earlier this month

Studios at Montero is the conversion of a 50-year-old motel into 60 units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people in Sonoma County. COTS is thrilled to partner with Burbank Housing and the City of Petaluma on this incredible project.

Studios at Montero (“SAM”) officially welcomed the first tenants earlier this month. All 60 units at SAM are fully remodeled studio units which come fully furnished. All new tenants also receive a welcome-home basket full of household goods to help ensure a successful and warm transition into their new homes.

COTS is proud to offer long-term, wraparound supportive services at this project, ensuring tenants feel safe and supported during their transition into permanent housing. Tenants are offered comprehensive case management, peer support services, access to onsite and offsite group recreation, healthcare coordination, and many other supportive services to help create a sense of safety, self-sufficiency, and instill confidence.

Projects like Studios at Montero bring hope to those experiencing homelessness right here in Sonoma County. Here at COTS, we have an immense sense of pride in serving our community, and we thank you for your continued support in upholding our mission.


Chris Cabral, CEO

Stacie & David's Story

Stacie was nine months pregnant when she and David arrived at COTS’ Mary Isaak Center, looking for help. “I was actually pacing in the lobby with false labor pains,” Stacie says. “I was desperate. I didn’t want to bring our baby home to live in a car.”

Both of them knew they wanted something different for their child.

“Neither of us was raised right,” David says. “We were pretty much on our own growing up, pretty much surrounded by people who weren’t good influences. When we got together, we decided to change things for ourselves.”

Together, and while still homeless, the couple stopped using drugs and alcohol. And they put distance between themselves and the friends and family who encouraged their drug use.

For David, who grew up in Geyserville, that meant leaving behind almost everyone he knew, including the Dad who had introduced him to drugs while David was in middle school. Despite his drug use and despite the fact that he had to work fulltime to keep the lights on and the cupboards full for himself and his little brother, David graduated from high school. He knew he liked learning.

“But the whole time, I was hanging out with my Dad and his friends, not kids my own age. And I realized one day that every single one of them had been to prison. Everyone I knew had killed someone or robbed a bank or was some kind of career criminal.”

At 27, David had a brush with the law that could have turned into a disaster. Thankfully, it didn’t.

He took it as a sign to change. “My friends would say that it proved I was lucky, and I should keep going. For me, I knew this was my chance. I felt it.”

Stacie left home the day she turned 18 to escape a stepfather who was unpredictable in everything expect his vindictiveness. “I never knew if I’d be locked in the house or locked out,” Stacie says. “I never knew if he was going to lock the food up.” Her mom told her she couldn’t help.

After leaving home, Stacie married and had children. But the marriage ended in divorce and a custody battle. She ended up homeless.

For her, starting to use drugs and quitting drugs were both about survival. “When you’re out there, you use because you’re cold,” she says. “You use because you’re hungry and it takes away your appetite. You use because you feel so bad. People just walk past, and you take that in and you feel invisible. You feel worse. So you use and you feel better.”

Until one day after about six months of using, “I was almost dead. And I thought, ‘My kids deserve better than this. If I was a kid I would want my mom to fight.’ And I did. And I am.”

Together, David and Stacie began to fight their way back. They lived first in a van and then in a car. And they stayed sober together. Stacie won back visitations with her children. As he always has, David worked. He worked a string of low-paying jobs until he found one in construction that paid well.

They spent over a year homeless.

Then, one day at the end of a workday, they came to the Mary Isaak Center. David talked to the site coordinator at our front desk while Stacey paced the lobby.

“Silvia, who worked there, took one look at me and said, ‘What is going on?’” says Stacie. “She said, ‘Come in here and talk to me.’”

That conversation set things in motion, and, with help from COTS’ Rapid Re-Housing program, the couple moved into their own rental apartment three days before baby Hannah was born. “We took her home to a home,” says David.

“COTS helped make it happen,” says Case Manager Carmen Razo-Clark. “But they were persistent. They showed the landlord they were serious. It’s what we wish every client could do.” Thanks to David’s construction job, they had the income to get back on their feet. And thanks to Stacie’s organizational skills, they were able to wade through all the landlord’s paperwork and all our paperwork. Stacie even convinced the landlord to lower the rent by a few dollars to ensure that the unit would fit our program guidelines.

Their can-do spirit springs from their partnership. “They are a team,” Carmen says.

Carmen set them up with Rapid Re-Housing, a six-month program in which COTS would pay a portion of their rent while providing services and coaching. She met with Stacie and David regularly to go over their finances. “The budget, for me, is the most important thing,” Carmen says. “If it’s not balanced, that’s how I know they need more support.”

Soon after Hannah came home from the hospital, the family’s landlord decided to sell the home and gave them notice to leave.

“Panic, that’s what I felt,” says Stacie. “I had a newborn. I was freaking out. Carmen just said, ‘Let me look into it.’”

“The beauty of the program is that we are involved for many months,” Carmen says. “If things go wrong, we can help.” She made a call to a property manager who’d worked with COTS before and convinced her to meet Stacie and David.

“I let them know they would have to build a rapport and establish trust with the lady. They did the rest,” Carmen says. The couple found their second apartment and moved in.

“So much about Rapid Re-Housing has been about people giving us a chance,” says David. “Before this, I feel like we had so many doors closed on us.”

Months have passed since COTS’ financial payments ended. Now, David is working in auto sales and is studying to make a shift to the insurance industry. Stacie is staying at home with Hannah (who just turned one) and is pursuing shared custody of her other children. Her goal is to go to school in order to help other people regain their footing and find housing.

Dana's Story

“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” Dana Moses said. “I was homeless and now I help the homeless.” Then he laughed. “Nah, there’s a little more to it than that.”

At the beginning of 2020, Dana had his own painting business, and had been living in Cloverdale for 10 years. Then Covid hit. “I lost my place, I lost all my business,” he said. “I started living on the river, under a bridge.” He’d struggled with addiction before, and after becoming homeless, began using again.

Ironically, it was the fires that saved him. “They had an evacuation shelter at the fairgrounds, and I went there,” he says. “Someone with COTS was doing interviews in case people had nowhere to go. I did one, and they brought me over to COTS.” Dana got right in. “I was lucky,” he said.

That was August 26th, just over a year ago. A week or so later, Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix was looking for volunteers to clean up a campsite that had been abandoned, and he agreed to help out. “By doing that I think I showed Robin a little something,” he said. “That’s how I got steered into the Downtown Streets Team. Getting motivated with that opened up a whole bunch of other new doors. That was the pivotal turning point for me, that got me out of bed every morning, that made me believe in myself.”

Downtown Streets Team is a partner nonprofit that provides work experience to homeless individuals through street cleaning and creek restoration – offering leadership opportunities and housing/employment resources at the same time. It was the Downtown Streets Team that helped him get sober. “When I first started, I was smoking weed five minutes before I got there.” Then they promoted him from a yellow shirt to a green shirt, a position of leadership that meant he would lead a Team of his own. “I started thinking, well God, I have leadership now; how are these people supposed to respect me and follow me if I’m high while I’m doing it?” He decided to get clean. 

From there, more doors began to open. His Case Manager, Christina Madden, referred him to a Sober Living Environment (SLE) in Petaluma. “It just so happens that that day, I had thirty days [of sobriety], and the SLE required 30 days clean. It’s weird, it’s just how everything fell into place.”

His new living situation meant he passed the Mary Isaak Center walking home from his mornings with the Downtown Streets Team, and soon he began volunteering at Mary’s Table. Then a position opened for a Kitchen Utility Worker, and a COTS Site Coordinator encouraged him to apply. A month later, he was employed full-time.

Now, he has a second job at Preferred Sonoma Caterers (a connection he made while working in the kitchen), his driver’s license, and a car (thanks to a generous donor), and is still stably housed in the same SLE he moved into last October. 

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done, and I carry it with me,” he said. “I showed up a severe addict, and now I’ll have a year sober October 1st, God willing. I was a different person, and I’m starting to learn how giving back is just as rewarding.

“I owe most all of it to COTS, and [COTS staff] Robin, Christina, Janin, Max, and Chris all taking the time and effort to steer me in the right direction. I did the work, but they took the time to show me how to do it.”

Brandy & Josh's Story

“We’re going to the store in a little bit, baby,” Brandy says, patiently. She’s speaking to her daughter, Luna, who’s anxious to head out to the grocery store. “She’s gonna be four in June,” Brandy says. “She just started having conversations with us recently, like full on back and forth. One sentence doesn’t necessarily mean one topic,” she adds with a laugh.

Luna has always been Brandy and her husband Josh’s primary motivation for getting a place of their own. Before coming to COTS, the family was living with Josh’s father, a connection made when Brandy, Josh, and Josh’s father were staying at Catholic Charities. Josh’s father started receiving housing assistance, and he asked if they’d move in with him, but the situation was volatile from the start. “From what [Brandy] told me, [Josh’s dad] drank an awful lot,” says Wendy Lindberg, who was the family’s case manager at the Kids First Family Shelter (KFFS). “It was a very abusive situation, and she didn’t feel safe, and didn’t want Luna in that situation.”

Six months after moving in with Josh’s father, things came to a head. “One day he just decided to get in my face over me putting the dishes away wrong,” Brandy says. “He’s not been a great man to my husband or his other kids, but that was the first time he ever decided to do something like that with me. [So] we left ‘cause we didn’t want our daughter to be around stuff like that anymore, and we didn’t wanna be going through it anymore; it just wasn’t healthy for anyone involved.”

Fortunately, Brandy’s uncle and aunt were able to take Luna while Brandy and Josh stayed in their car, figuring out next steps. “That’s when we got ahold of COTS,” Brandy says.

From the moment they arrived, the couple worked hard to meet their goals of getting into permanent housing. Josh was a few months into a plumbing job, and was often busy with work, so Brandy primarily met with Wendy for case management. They worked on daycare and head-start applications for Luna, which both had long wait lists; Brandy, who was unemployed, got a job at Staples within the first two weeks of their stay. 

Eileen Morris, Client Enrichment Manager, assisted the couple with credit repair, helping to eliminate an outstanding Verizon bill from Josh’s credit history, and building Brandy’s credit up with a prepaid, low-limit credit card. “As far as financial help, I didn’t help them a whole lot, because they really didn’t need it,” says Wendy. “I tried to do a few things for them, but they really wanted to do it on their own.” The couple was spending too much on eating out, so Wendy worked with them on budgeting, and making meals at home. “They probably didn’t have a lot of that from their background, cooking, so that was hard for them to learn how to do,” Wendy says. 

During their stay, Brandy began struggling with her job, stating that she felt she wasn’t given enough training for the work she was being assigned. “She was becoming extremely stressed and anxious, at the job and when she got home,” says Wendy. “We discussed options, and she decided to stick it out and to ask for help from Josh, who was very supportive. I also let her know that Luna could come and play with me if she needed some time for herself on her days off.”

“Wendy, she was just amazing,” says Brandy. “She was a friendly face every time, just always asking how we were doing, she totally helped us out. This was a really hard time in our lives, and it helped us out immensely, I couldn’t honestly be more grateful.”

Brandy told Wendy they were considering getting an apartment with Josh’s brother and his fiancé (now wife), which Wendy encouraged them to do. They began applying to places on their own, and just over six months after moving into KFFS, the family found a cozy two-bedroom condo in Santa Rosa to share. “We moved into our new place on New Year’s Day,” says Brandy. “It was a pretty neat way to start the year.”

During their time at KFFS, Josh had gotten a $500 hiring bonus for getting his brother a job, Brandy had been offered full-time with benefits, and between their stimulus checks and Josh’s work bonuses and raises, the couple had been able to save $7000 for their move-in expenses. “They were sober when they came in, probably for at least a few months,” says Wendy, “and they stayed sober, which was amazing; the situation of being homeless is stressful.”

And now? “It’s going well, everything is a lot better,” Brandy says of their new living situation. There’s a park across the street from their complex that Luna loves to play in, and a kitchen for Josh to make grilled cheese sandwiches and sliced apples when Luna gets hangry. They have a dog, Freya, and Luna can watch Mickey and Scooby Doo in their living room. Brandy and Josh are teaching her that it’s okay to be upset and helping her express her feelings and her needs in a productive way. And Brandy and Josh have a loving, supportive place to come home to after work, with a door to close and lock behind them.

“My husband and his family have struggled with homelessness on and off since they were kids,” Brandy says. “I think this is the first place his youngest brother has had to live in maybe four years, so it’s good for all of us. We’re finally in a stable spot, and it’s so good just to be able to look back and say, ‘shit I made it.’” Then she added with a laugh, “I didn’t mean to swear, my bad!”

“Everything is on a better track than I ever thought I’d be able to get myself to,” she says. “That steppingstone that COTS gave us was really, really great, and everything is for the better for it. We finally got ourselves to a point where we can build from, so it’s just up from here. We’re just so appreciative of the opportunities COTS gave us.”

Skyler's Story

“Well, I moved here three years ago from Missouri, ‘cause of her,” Skyler Padgett says, gesturing to his wife, Tricia Potter. They’re sitting on the back porch outside their Santa Rosa home, under a shady overhang, wind chimes tinkling behind them, and this makes them both smile. “We met in a LGBTQ+ group on Facebook. And we started talking and just instantly connected.”

“Life in St. Louis wasn't that great for me,” he continues. “St. Louis is not trans-friendly at all. A friend of mine had been murdered there, for being trans. So I knew there was no way I could be there and live my life how I wanted to be, to live as my true self.” 

When Skyler and Tricia met, he was running the cafeteria at Edward Jones. “This is before I came out as trans,” Skyler says, “and I didn't shave one day. And my boss told me, ‘You need to go home and shave.’ And I was like, ‘I don't want to.’ My boss said, ‘Well, if you don't shave, we have a problem.’ So I didn't shave. And I went from being in charge of the cafeteria to demoted to a grill cook.” Then, as he was driving home, he received a call letting him know that he no longer had a position with the company. “That was the final straw.”

Skyler had been stationed in San Diego when he was in the Navy, so he was familiar with California, and already loved it. “My first Pride was in San Francisco,” he says, “so I fell in love with California like that. [When I was there] I thought, this is my home. This is where I wanna live.” So when Trisha asked him to move out to California with her, it was a no brainer.

At the time, Tricia was living with a friend in a studio apartment in Guerneville. “Already two people in a studio is a lot, but three people in a studio?” Tricia says with a laugh. While they were looking for a bigger place, they stayed with Tricia’s sister on her living room floor for a time. Then an acquaintance had a mother-in-law unit in Cloverdale, but unfortunately, the situation devolved quickly. “We were only there for a month, and that's when we found COTS,” she says.

They got connected to COTS through the Veteran’s Resource Center (VRC, now Nation’s Finest), where Skyler was employed as a cook. With bad credit between them and Tricia's emotional support cat, they found it nearly impossible to find viable housing options. One after another, they applied to and either were rejected or had units fall through, mostly due to credit checks. “I was at the point where I was just ready to give up,” Skyler says. “We were looking at sleeping in our car.” 

In the nick of time, Skyler’s case manager, Trevor, found them a house in Bennett Valley. They had a roommate, Art, an older Vietnam vet who also served in the Navy, and a spacious three-bedroom house with hardwood floors and a built-in closet. Skyler and Art hit it off “like peas and carrots,” says Tricia. It felt like a dream come true.

Then, the owner sold the building, and they had to move. They were devastated.

They moved into another shared living situation with several housemates, including a couple who lived downstairs. It was alright at first. "The wife and [Tricia] became friends," Skyler said. "But then there was a confrontation, and I was called an 'it' by her husband." The tension in the house became unbearable. 

Eventually, COTS broke off its agreement with the landlord, and moved all the tenants out of the house into other units.

That led Skyler and Tricia to the house they live in now. They were nervous at first because they were going to have roommates again. "I don't like to come out as trans [at home] because I don't know if there's transphobic people," says Skyler. "And I do not want to create a toxic environment, not only for me, but for my wife. This is my comfort zone. I go home to get away from that."

Fortunately, they were pleasantly surprised. “It's been wonderful,” Skyler says, relief clear on his face. “I can't even describe it. We're all just one big happy family here. We all look out for each other. We take care of each other, and they don't make me feel any different than anybody else. It's incredible, you know, it's very accepting. And you can't put a price on that.” 

They’ve been in their current home for a year and a half, and they plan to stay with COTS as long as they need to. “They've been good to us,” says Skyler. “I mean if it wasn’t for COTS we'd be houseless. And Debbie [Robbins, their case manager] is very understanding. We were severely behind on rent because I can't afford it. I just keep her up to date on things and I just pay what I can. Thank God we're in the COTS system." 

“Being with COTS allows us to be able to stay here in Sonoma County,” adds Tricia. “I'm from Fresno, and that would be the backup plan, to move back to Fresno. And I really don't want to move back to Fresno,” she adds, laughing.

Last November, after two bad job experiences as a cook (the only thing he's ever done), one including transphobic treatment, Skyler made the hard decision to go on disability and reevaluate his career choices. That’s when Debbie got a flyer for a peer support class. “She thought of me, and she brought it by and she said, ‘Skyler, what do you think about this?’ I took the class, and not only did I fall in love with the class, but I realized that I can really help somebody, with just my learned experience.” 

And Skyler does have learned experience. He has childhood trauma from ongoing sexual abuse, which led him to develop dissociative identity disorder (DID), and PTSD from his time on a Naval supply ship. He was addicted to heroin for eight years, has experienced homelessness, and struggled with his identity as a trans man. 

“The thing with me is, I've had a hard journey, but I'm not afraid to tell my story,” Skyler says. “I want people to know I'm trans and I want them to hear my story. Because it does get better. My journey's been hard, but you know, there's always tomorrow, ‘cause the sun will come up no matter what, it always does. 

“I’ve tried to kill myself more times than I even like to mention, but failed every time. I put a gun in my mouth; it jammed. I tried to hang myself; the rope broke. I pulled my car into a garage and just left it running, and my car was perfectly fine, and then the battery died. So I am supposed to be here. I don't know what my purpose is, but the universe and God led me to this peer support, so this is the path I'm walking on, and I'm gonna share my story with people and hopefully help somebody turn their life around, like my life has been turned around. Don't give up because hope – and you can take this home with you – hope is: hold on pain ends. That's what it stands for. And I'm getting that [tattooed] next for a constant reminder because you know what, it does end; hold on. It will end, and it does.”

As of the publication of this newsletter, Skyler has started his new job as a Peer Support Specialist through the Wellness Center, a brand new program beginning early August. “I'll be assigned three members, and I'm helping them transition from being houseless to getting stable, permanent housing,” Skyler says. “And whatever services they need, I'm gonna help them stabilize their environment. I am over the moon happy and excited.”