In late 2016, the Salvation Army of La Crosse changed its strict zero tolerance policy on alcohol, meaning at that time a homeless person couldn’t have anything in their system in order to be let in.
Since the change there has been an increase in 911 calls to the Salvation Army.
According to numbers provided from the La Crosse Police Department, from June 26th, 2016-17, there were 491 calls for service in 2016-17, and that increased to 702 calls in 2017-18 during the same time period.
Salvation Army Development Director Nick Ragner says their previous approach was counterproductive.
Ragner said, “Mental health challenges, addiction, being homeless. All of that works in a vicious circle. When we would say you have to put down the bottle or you can’t be here, we lost people we otherwise might be able to help.”
The police department says some calls are not for any disputes or illegal behavior, but rather they need to speak with someone who spends the night there.
Ragner says banning people or kicking them out for a certain period of time depends on the specific situation.
“The ideal situation is we would get these people resources to help them. We’re not kicking them to the curb and saying figure it out by yourself.”
The policy change at the Salvation Army has appeared to coincide with increases in complaints about those creating disturbances in next door Burns Park.
Two people have recently banned from the city parks for unruly behavior at Burns Park. In the latest incident, 35 year-old Shannon Perry had assaulted a person in the shelter parking lot before making her way to the park.
At a recent meeting of the city’s parks board, Sarah Petaska, who manages the Washburn apartments across the street, implored the board to do something about the disturbances at Burns Park.
“You need to come and spend some time in that park to see what’s going on,” she said. “The constant drunk and disorderly conduct, which also involves drugs, loud yelling, obscene language, physical fighting littering and public urination.”