Colleen Carmichael to seek new calling in trauma teachings and therapy

Colleen Carmichael

Colleen Carmichael

Reach For Home, the homeless services organization of northern Sonoma County, is plotting a future without the leadership of Colleen Carmichael, who took the all-volunteer startup in 2014 to a professionally-staffed and financially stable organization with $2 million in housing, program and financial assets. Carmichael has announced her departure at the end of the year to pursue a desire to create a new global organization to support trauma care, self-empowerment and trauma-focused school programs.

Reach For Home board chair Mona Hanes said “the board is deeply saddened by Colleen’s departure; however, we are most grateful to Colleen for her vision and dedication to Reach For Home and the many accomplishments achieved during her tenure.”

“I was blessed that a board hired me and believed in my vision and allowed us to apply the energy and effort to make it a reality,” Carmichael said about her Reach For Home beginnings. Carmichael previously worked in the financial services industry and served on many industry-related and community nonprofit boards.

“Reach For Home is now in a solid place and is really well positioned with staff, a great board and really good partners. Everyone’s been very kind and generous to me and I really love my team and the board,” said Carmichael.

Carmichael admitted that fighting the social ills of homelessness takes a big toll on her, her staff and other local homeless service providers and workers across the county. She said the current conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic make the daily outreach by her staff all the more challenging. Reach For Home staff these days carry supplies of face masks, sanitizer and pandemic literature with them to homeless encampments, emergency shelters and on their daily “street medicine” visits led by nurse Jaclyn Ramirez. Other front line staff includes program director Ana Rangel, outreach professionals Rick Cafferata and Jim McCammon and housing director Laurie Mitchell.

Reach For Home operates on a $1.6 million annual budget and owns or operates several rapid housing and longer term housing units in Healdsburg, Cloverdale and other parts of the north county. The nonprofit contracts with the city of Healdsburg and is working on future housing and emergency shelter projects with partners such as Burbank Housing, Mill District and others. It supports a seasonal emergency homeless shelter at Healdsburg’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and helps staff ongoing food giveaways.

With so much success, there must be a strong calling to take Carmichael away from something she built from her own personal vision.

“My calling is to work for the causes of homelessness and other traumas, rather than (just) work on the after effects,” she said. “We see the impacts of trauma, especially in young children, everywhere we look. We see what happens to broken children that never have that trauma recognized and addressed.”

Her newest vision is to create a global organization that will develop school-based programs to identify trauma cases and to provide treatment and therapies to be shared with other nonprofits and agencies. After a month or two of “re-charging” Carmichael said she would begin to look for a post of operations that might take her far from Healdsburg.

“I’ve begun looking and I really don’t where I will end up, except it will probably be near an airport because I expect to do a lot of flying,” she said.

Her resignation takes place Dec. 31, 2020.

Homelessness has been the hottest of hot button issues in Sonoma County for the past several years, even as natural disasters like wildfires and a flood and now a global pandemic fetch extra attention of local elected officials, community leaders and others. This past year, the county spent $12 million on various programs and responses to the local homeless crisis. Prior to the shelter-in-place edict in March by the public health officer, north county supervisor James Gore was holding monthly homeless task force meetings and had developed draft strategic plan that envisioned “functional zero homelessness” by the year 2025. COVID-19 has put those plans on hold, while Reach For Home outreach workers and others are diverted to daily duties of emergency and most severe cases.

“The next person to take my place will need to be very much out in the public and sharing what we do and what our needs are,” said Carmichael. “Our (Reach For Home) expertise has to be providing housing and helping people stay housed. That is why we need to deal with the trauma that got them here. What happened? Why are we here and how do we get beyond it.”

Too much of the recent and ongoing responses to homelessness are done in individual “silos” and led by politics and egos, Carmichael charged.

“We (nonprofits) can only go so far (with criticisms) because of where we get our funding. But if we want to make the best decisions we have to put all our egos aside,” she said.

Carmichael is known both for her depth of passion but also for her business acumen and ability to build partnerships, “The board told me they don’t have any concerns that I won’t keep working full charge up to my very last day.”

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