Petaluma’s Committee on the Shelterless is just two weeks away from resurrecting a key family homeless shelter that was shuttered three years ago due to funding cuts.
The shelter, known as the COTS Family Center, will serve homeless families with children. About half will come from referrals through Sonoma County Child Protective Services.
“Breaking the cycle of homelessness for children is a core mission at COTS,” said Mike Johnson, CEO of the Petaluma nonprofit. “Homelessness is probably the biggest risk factor there is.”
The 11-room shelter will have the capacity to house 35 children and adults each night. The length of stays at the shelter will range from three to six months, depending on the difficulty families have finding housing.
According to preliminary data from the 2015 Sonoma County homeless count, 367 homeless families with children were counted during the winter, down from 451 people two years earlier. It is unclear how many homeless families there are in Petaluma, but Johnson said COTS’ ultimate goal is to find housing for all of them.
The COTS Family Center, located at 1500 Petaluma Blvd. S., is expected to house about 125 children and their parents annually, Johnson said. COTS hopes to help families move out of the shelter and find permanent or transitional housing.
Katie Greaves, program development manager for Family, Youth & Children’s Services, the county’s child protective services agency, said the county will continue to provide COTS with about $70,000 in annual funding, as it has for the past three years. Until now, the money has been used to house families at a residential home in Petaluma for 90 to 120 days. Those beds will be transitioned to COTS’ reopened family shelter, she said.
The Child Protective Services cases referred to COTS involve families that have been investigated for abuse and neglect. They can receive a referral to COTS if social workers conclude the children are safe with their parents, she said.
“We get out of the picture at that point,” Greaves said. “Housing is the risk factor for the family — not having a safe and secure place to be at night. . . . If we can provide that housing, we ourselves want to get out of the picture and not be intrusive for the family.”
Greaves said the COTS beds are “immensely helpful” to social workers who must find emergency housing for these families. Johnson said COTS beds are a “cost-effective” way of preventing expensive county interventions later.
Half of the beds will be set aside for referrals from Child Protective Services. The other half will be for families in need of emergency services in Petaluma and throughout Sonoma County. Johnson said the same length-of-stay limits will apply for families not referred by child welfare services.
The shelter was closed in 2012 after it lost about $200,000 in local government funding, including housing in-lieu funds from the city and local redevelopment dollars, Johnson said.
Aside from the county’s contribution, about $125,000 to reopen the facility came from the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation to assist in the first year of operation. Also, more than $10,000 was raised by Petaluma Leadership, a program of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s leadership program got wind of the COTS project through Jane Hamilton, executive director of Rebuilding Together Petaluma, a local chapter of a national organization that repairs homes for extremely low-income people.