PETALUMA, Calif. (KRON) — Many cities in Sonoma County are experiencing freezing cold temperatures, along with rain Thursday night. That is often when the need for shelter for the unhoused becomes dire.
A shelter in Petaluma called COTS has a warming center on cold nights.
It has also found success in providing tiny homes with several resources to get people into permanent housing. KRON4 spent some time there to learn about the work being done.
On a rainy and freezing night, COTS Mary Isaak Center tries to make extra room for people in need of warm shelter.
“When it rains it’s problematic,” COTS Director of Shelter Services Robin Phoenix said. “We do have the ability to close half our dining room off and serve three to a dozen people. It’s helpful, but it’s not enough.”
COTS is always running at max capacity, providing shelter to more than 150 unhoused people. There are 25 tiny homes on the property called the People’s Village.
The shelter also provides 70,000 hot meals a year. The people who stay here have often been unhoused for many years.
Stacie Questoni manages the People’s Village. She says the key to getting people off the streets is providing resources.
“Case management, social support, art teacher, we have a legal aid is here, job link — all things to make sure these people are successful,” Questoni said.
The tiny homes opened last March, Questoni says they have learned it takes time to get people back on their feet.
“They need more than six months, a long amount of time to sometimes just learn how to shower, clean their homes,” she said.
COTS is a low-barrier shelter, meaning they don’t have to be sober to live there. But, there are addiction services like AA.
“People getting sober and decreasing their intake are the ones getting housed,” Questoni said.
The shelter has put eight people into permanent housing since March. COTS also has a recuperative care unit — currently with six beds. The unit is often full, so the program is expanding to 20 beds this year.
“It’s been a blessing, I would be right back on the street,” said one COTS client Buck Smith.
The shelter helps people like Smith who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“It’s very overwhelming. They keep my appointments organized; they pick up my medicines for me. Give me rides to and from the doctors. They are very very supportive.”
It’s the feeling of being supported and cared for that makes a difference between someone wanting to get off the streets permanently, which will be Smith soon.
KRON On is streaming news live now
“I’m blessed to be here, I’m grateful to be here. I was born and raised in this town, and I’m proud we have this place,” Smith said.
COTS has an annual budget of $8 million. The money comes from the city, Sonoma County, foundations and donors. Management hopes to continue to expand and to be a role model for other Bay Area cities.
“We are here to recognize them as human beings, give them dignity and lead them to housing,” Phoenix said.