By Andrew Wilson, COTS Executive Director
Andrew became COTS’ Executive Director in December 2013. Prior to working at COTS, Andrew was the Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the Appleton District.
The issue of homelessness can be an ongoing debate of cause and effect. The plethora of reasons for which one experiences homelessness usually can be traced back, in some form, to unemployment or underemployment. During such times, many of those that are living a life defined as homeless begin a catastrophic chain reaction of events that lead them down a path of despair, financial ruin, ridicule and isolation. “Tomorrow” is no longer a word in their vocabulary as they can only operate in crisis mode to survive the next few hours. This becomes the way of life for too many for too long. Life begins to pass them by; debts begin to pile up and family begins to leave them behind.
COTS exists to turn the hazy past into a clear future. Our programs are not crisis-based, so once potential residents are ready to put their lives back in order, we provide the structure that has been missing for weeks, months or even years. We educate them, integrate them, support them and learn from them. They become family members within our COTS community. COTS staff teaches them to not only think about tomorrow, but about next month, next year and further.
Sometimes, however, more support is still needed. Because of poor decisions or the lack of employment in their past, all the shelter, education and support in the world can’t take away the fact that many residents have built up seemingly insurmountable amounts of bad debt during their homelessness experience. Our goal at COTS is to catapult these residents into the next positive stage of their lives: a debt-free stage.
COTS’ Living Debt Free Program, initiated at the end of 2013, provides the safe and welcoming environment needed for residents to move on to a new, often foreign, stage of their lives when they can truly say that they no longer owe money. This program operates within the Men’s Program and provides up to an additional two years of transitional housing to individuals who need a little more time before they are comfortable leaving the COTS environment. Residents in the Living Debt Free Program are able to focus on paying off debt because they have already completed other COTS’ programming.
While residents are participating in COTS’ Living Debt Free Program, they are required to mentor a resident in our Young Adult Program. For both the mentor and the mentee, they have created a new family bond at COTS.
When an individual leaves COTS debt-free, the chance of becoming homeless again is next to nothing. These residents have employment, savings and a future again. The Living Debt Free Program truly fulfills our mission of “Ending Homelessness in the Fox Valley”.