Petaluma nonprofit Committee on the Shelterless hires new CEO

Chris Cabral, who has worked for almost eight years at nonprofits in Sonoma County, will succeed CEO Chuck Fernandez, who held the position since 2018 and announced his retirement earlier this year.|

Committee on the Shelterless, a Petaluma nonprofit that assists community members experiencing homelessness in finding and keeping housing, will have a new CEO starting Jan. 1, 2023.

Chris Cabral, who has worked for almost eight years at nonprofits in Sonoma County, will succeed CEO Chuck Fernandez, who held the position since 2018 and announced his retirement earlier this year.

Cabral, 32, grew up in Gambier, a small town in Ohio. Her parents were always interested and engaged in their community, she said. Her father would volunteer and build housing for shelterless people in their neighborhood.

She moved to Sonoma County nine years ago when she was stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard in Two Rock, west of Petaluma.

“As soon as I got to Sonoma County it was love at first sight,” Cabral said. “I was like, what is this magical place?”

She joined the Coast Guard when she was 22 years old.

“You’re really trained, without question, to support the people around you,” Cabral said about being in the military.

Nonprofit work seemed like the natural next step after her time in the Coast Guard ended, she said.

Cabral got a job working in Petaluma as a human resources director at PEP Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer in the North Bay.

In 2017, she began working at her current nonprofit, Nation’s Finest, which provides housing, counseling and other services to veterans and their families. Cabral started there as chief administrative officer and remained in that role for two years before being promoted to chief operating officer. As COO, she oversees the company’s everyday functions, as well as company culture. The organization has doubled in size during her tenure.

From 2014 to 2020, she attended Golden Gate University in San Francisco, first getting her bachelor’s degree in accounting and business management and then a law degree. She completed the university’s law program by taking night classes while working at Nation’s Finest.

“I fell in love with it really quickly. Working in the nonprofit sector, especially the housing sector, it was an immediate connection,” Cabral said.

She is currently pursuing a master’s in accounting from Dominican University, to formalize her understanding of an organization’s finances. She also currently serves on the boards of Legal Aid of Marin and Trips for Kids Marin, as well as being a senior nonprofit management consultant with River’s Edge consulting groups.

Cabral said she’s excited to get started at Committee on the Shelterless, and she plans to maintain and increase the progress that’s already underway.

During his four years as CEO, Fernandez has overseen the partnership between Committee on the Shelterless and the city of Petaluma to create People’s Village, a project that provided temporary housing units for shelterless individuals who may be resistant to communal shelters. Fernandez also helped establish the organization as a regional leader in homeless services and oversaw professional development initiatives for employees.

“Chuck is not only an amazing leader at COTS, but he’s an amazing team member as well,” Cabral said. “I would’t want to step in and make a big change right away.”

This year, Committee on the Shelterless was named one of the Best Places to Work in Sonoma County by the North Bay Business Journal. And the nonprofit’s July Employee Engagement Survey received an “overwhelming satisfaction score by our team members” for the third year in a row, according to Fernandez.

Cabral wants to continue that success.

“Always supporting the staff that’s doing the work — I’m a big believer in putting the feelings and morale of the staff first,” Cabral said.

As for the organization’s core objective, addressing homelessness in Sonoma County will be an ongoing challenge, she said.

About 750 households in Petaluma had someone who experienced homelessness at some point in 2021, according to Petaluma Health Center data, and there are roughly 300 people in the city right now who are considered homeless.

Contact the reporter Rebecca Wolff at

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