Recent tragedies strengthen COTS’ resolve to help
Published: Monday, November 11, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 11, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.
Sadly, we have recently experienced several deaths of homeless adults in our community. At Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), we have been deeply affected by these tragedies. In one case, this was someone we knew and had worked with closely on his road to recovery. He had a new home and a lot to be proud of. Unfortunately, his alcohol addiction was too strong and he suffered a tragic relapse.
On the other end of the spectrum, several of these souls were long-time homeless who had resisted help for years or decades. Whatever their overwhelming individual challenges, they may have given up hope and resigned themselves to a life on the streets.
There was little in common with all of these individuals, except that they were all human beings – our neighbors, our friends — who were in crisis and suffering. Their unfortunate deaths should not go unnoticed. Rather, they should put a necessary spotlight on the challenging realities facing us and our community.
At COTS, we are working with and reaching out to people on the streets and in our community whose lives have been shattered by serious health problems, long term unemployment, addiction and abuse, and are facing a myriad of other challenging issues. Our work is happening day-in and day-out to bring help and hope to people who are homeless and struggling, and who desperately want a better life.
Our mission is to put an end to homelessness. While our statistics and success rates tell us we are making good progress, these recent events demonstrate that we still have a lot of work to do.
We are working hard to develop solutions that include, among other things, more permanent, shared housing in our community. This will help us to house hundreds more people who can’t afford to rent on their own in Sonoma County, where we have a 2 percent vacancy rate and some of the most expensive housing in the country.
Being able to move people through the shelter and into housing faster will free up desperately needed bed space for many who may have lost hope of getting into shelter now. With long waiting lists to get in and with winter quickly approaching, the challenges of how fast we can meet these demands become even greater.
To those people who need us, we wish we could tell them, “when you are ready we have a warm bed for you.” However, faced with high need and the continuing decline in government funding, our resources are stretched to the point that we now have to say, “please wait in line with 65 others in front of you.” To us, spending a month or more on a waitlist at any time of year is unacceptable and we are working hard to raise the necessary funds to shorten these timelines and expand our services.
The sad news of these recent deaths gave us time to pause and reflect as we honored these people in a memorial service at COTS. As an organization, our resolve has never been stronger, and we are hopeful that the legacy of these lost lives will be a catalyst for positive solutions. Petaluma has always been part of the solution and we hope that Petaluma’s resolve will be as strong as ours in continuing this critically important work.
(Mike Johnson works with the homeless as the chief executive officer of Committee on the Shelterless (COTS) in Petaluma.)
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