The head of the North Bay's largest homeless services provider announced Monday he will leave the agency in May.

Chuck Fernandez, executive director of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, departs May 14 for a similar post with Catholic Charities of the East Bay. He said he has helped set the nonprofit on a right path.

"The agency is in a really good place right now. We've made some significant changes over the last several years," Fernandez said. "It has a really strong foundation financially. Our reputation has improved significantly. It's a good time for me to leave."

The agency operates 20 programs in Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties, focusing on poverty and homelessness, immigration, and senior citizens.

It has 92 employees and an annual budget of about $7 million — equal to the East Bay agency's, Fernandez said. It worked with about 15,000 clients last year, including housing more than 100 families.

It also runs the Safe Parking program that the county launched this winter, permitting people who are homeless to stay overnight in their vehicles in designated locations.

Fernandez became Catholic Charities' executive director in 2011 after two years overseeing its Family Support Center in Santa Rosa. He guided the agency to its recognition by the Council on Accreditation, which evaluates and certifies nonprofit human and social services agencies nationwide.

That recognition reflected Catholic Charities' move to restructure its priorities — focusing on accountability and outcomes — and raise its ambitions, Fernandez said.

"The level of professionalism and experience has really improved dramatically," he said. "We've been able to apply for bigger grants because our capacity is stronger."

The changes haven't come without some strife and controversy. That happened most visibly in 2012, when longtime homeless services program manager Nick Baker was demoted.

Baker had been a fixture for 19 years and his reassignment — he resigned soon after — made waves among both service providers and homeless people.

His replacement, Jennielynn Holmes, has since won plaudits for her work.

"We look for a balance of head and heart and we've had to make some staffing changes and that's always the most difficult thing," Fernandez said.

Board member Len Marabella will be interim executive director while a search for Fernandez's replacement is conducted. Fernandez declined to disclose his salary, but in 2012 he was paid $97,805 in salary, according to Catholic Charities' public tax documents.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or