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After La Crosse board deems Houska Park a “campground,” — essentially for homeless — resolution before committee Tuesday would prohibit that



As winter eventually comes to an end, a lot of different gears are turning in La Crosse when it comes to helping those without shelter.

One resolution going before committee Tuesday, however, doesn’t sound like it would be much help.

The Judiciary and Administration Committee meets at 6 p.m. at the Southside Neighborhood Center (map) and online here. To speak on any agenda item, arrive early and sign up or, virtually, contact the city clerk by email (here) or calling: 608-789-7510.

Before getting to that, however, here’s where the city is at with its homeless population.

Just over a week ago, the La Crosse Parks Board gave initial approval to make Houska Park a temporary campground for the 2022 season, which would allow the homeless to congregate without penalty.

Since then, the city council held a special meeting to also buy the Maple Grove Motel for $1.5 million and convert that into bridge housing for the unsheltered — sort of a middle ground between being homeless and getting more permanent housing. 

While all that’s happening, the city’s $700,000 deal with the Econo Lodge to rent rooms for the homeless over winter ends April 1.

The resolution on Tuesday’s Judiciary & Administration Committee agenda woul d prohibit the decision by the Park Board to make Houska a campground.

Resolution going before the Judiciary and Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

City council member Chris Woodard is the author of that resolution. Houska Park is in his district. While the resolution sounds harsh, Woodard doesn’t see Houska as an appropriate place to live without shelter come April 1. 

“I don’t think it’s fair for those people to have to stay on the ground if it’s going to be cold, there’s going to be snow,” Woodard said Monday on La Crosse Talk PM. “We might be able to find some funding or some funding sources become available, where we would be able to extend that at the Econolodge because, as we all know, the weather in April can be uncertain.”

With the Maple Grove plan, Woodard doesn’t think anyone should have to camp out at Houska.

“Hopefully we can get some sort of a resolution to come out of that,” Woodward said, of extending the rentals at the Econo Lodge. “I’m not 100 percent entirely sure how negotiations work with that and what not. 

“My hope is to have them stay at the Econo Lodge until the Maple Grove area is ready to have people move into.”

The cost estimate to rent rooms for about 100 homeless at Econo is around $200,000 a month.

Woodard thought the Maple Grove Motel would be converted into bridge housing by early summer. 

One hiccup in this idea, though, is it doesn’t appear that Maple Grove would be able to take in 100 people at a time. 

Last year, the city allowed homeless people to stay at Houska Park without penalty in more of an unofficial capacity. That came a year after a lot of those without shelter were staying at Cameron Park near downtown, but often were cited by police for $124 for being in the park after hours and told to leave.

Converting Houska to a campground for the season makes staying there more official. There are still pending regulations, approvals and licenses needed through both the county and the state, however.

So, those left out of that initial Maple Grove bridge housing conversion would either need to remain at the Econo Lodge or find someplace else to go. And, if Houska Park isn’t designated a campground, the city would either have to do what it did last year — unofficially allow Houska to be used — or what it did two years ago and ticket people who are in parks after hours.

“This is why we bring it in front of the committee for discussion,” Woodard said. “I may have an idea but then I may have not thought of an alternative solution, where we all get together and we discuss.”

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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