Homelessness is not OK. No one thinks so. The general public often thinks of individuals experiencing homelessness as “someone else.” But they are community members right among us. They are moms and dads, aunts and uncles, friends and coworkers, or sons and daughters of the people we know. Homelessness is not a choice most people make as a way of life. With the help of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, programs, services and facilities are at the forefront of the fight to end homelessness in our communities.
In January, COTS, Inc. with programs and services in the continuum to end homelessness, is opening what will eventually be an Oshkosh based 40-bed facility, which was purchased by the Foundation. Residents must apply to live at COTS. The residents come from a variety of referral services, such as The Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Center, Day by Day Warming Shelter, treatment programs, or self-referral.
COTS is a program as much as it is a home with a focus on four elements to achieve stability: housing, education, employment and well-being which includes health and social connections. Cindy Sahotsky, Executive Director notes, “Everyone needs these elements in their life, but individuals who get derailed with a trauma or crisis and are not able to resolve it may become homeless. If affects their well-being.”
The road is not necessarily an easy one. Individuals must apply to the program and when they enter it, they commit to a drug, alcohol and crime-free life, to paying the program fees and working in cooperation with the program service coordinator. “As long as they are improving their situation, they can stay in the program for up to two years,” states Sahotsky. “We are the family that comes around them and wraps them in services they need to get their life back.”
Deputy Director Candice Lane will oversee the operations at the new facility in Oshkosh. She knows from her experience with the Appleton Shelter, that there is often more than one barrier for people struggling with homelessness. “Our community is so rich in resources addressing a variety of issues, so we don’t want to take away from the other programs and services. We serve as a one stop shop, so one person is a centralized point of contact for them. Even as we work with individuals, we can identify when they have an issue, that they may not even recognize.
Sahotsky adds, “We’ve had hundreds of people who enter the program, and think, ‘I’m only going to be here for 30 days and then I’m out.’ But when we start working with them and they start the work in the program they stay. We are helping people reinvest in the community once we help get them stabilized. They become a benefit to the community. We are rebuilding someone’s life.”
The assistance doesn’t end after the two year stay at the COTS residence. The staff remain in close contact with the residents up to three years after they leave. Sahotsky goes on to say, “We spend a lot of time exit planning, and safety planning, to make sure they have what they need when they leave us.”
The COTS facility is a transitional shelter, a bridge out of crisis care. Residents can come and go as they need to. It’s their home. There is staff to help, and they have a model of ‘reach one, teach one’ which relies on the organic support the residents give each other. There is a core group of classes and programming which are required, and sometimes the residents suggest class ideas that staff haven’t thought of.
The success rate of COTS is impressive, as 90% of the individuals who go through the program, and then leave, maintain their own housing. “Our focus,” says Sahotsky, “is that we don’t want to see people have to come back through the system.”
With the purchase of the 40-bed residence facility, the Foundation is taking another significant step in the fight to end homelessness in the area.