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La Crosse city committee upholds plan to let homeless camp in Houska Park

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An attempt to reverse the campground designation for Houska Park this year was defeated by a La Crosse city committee Tuesday.

Although some residents told the Judiciary and Administration Committee that the campground for the homeless last year was “ugly” and “embarrassing,” Mayor Mitch Reynolds said some homeless people will want to live outside this summer.

In that case, Houska will be an “outlet for the inevitable individuals who are going to want to sleep outside even if we have a place inside,” Reynolds added.

The mayor also said it would set a bad precedent for the council to overrule the city’s park board, which made the campground declaration in February.

Council member Chris Woodard’s resolution would have prohibited the campground status at Houska.

He had urged denial, as a way of finding more money to continue letting the homeless stay at the Econo Lodge for a few more months. The current rental agreement with the hotel expires April 1.

Woodard on La Crosse Talk PM said Monday living conditions outdoors in Wisconsin at Houska is far from ideal. The city contracted with Econo, using $700,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funding. Extending that deal, however, might cost more than the $200,000 a month it cost through winter.

Park board chair Chris Kahlow said she was conflicted, but now thinks the camping designation at Houska is the right thing to do.

“We can use this temporarily until we have the next solution that hopefully is forthcoming quickly,” Kahlow said.

The city last week purchased the Maple Grove Motel on the south side of La Crosse for $1.5 million. The plan is to renovate the hotel and convert it into bridge housing, which would help the unsheltered transition into more permanent housing.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Kent Porter

    March 2, 2022 at 6:57 am

    Hey Mayor Mitch , Get your head out of your butt , The homeless that CHOOSE TO LIVE OUTSIDE ARE ADDICTED TO HEROIN < METH < CRACK COACINE < AND WHATEVER DRUGS AND ALCOHOL THEY CAN GET THEIR HANDS ON , THAT IS ILLEGAL , THEY NEED TO BE LOCKED UP , CLEANED UP , AND GET JOBS , !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Meghan Merrick

    March 3, 2022 at 10:41 am

    Thank you, Mayor,for seeing beyond the stereotypes regarding homelessness. People who claim that all homeless people are drug addicts or that they want to be homeless simply find it easier to blame the victim than look at the cold, hard facts. The facts are that approximately 11 percent of homeless people are veterans, 25 percent of homeless people battle a severe mental illness, and somewhere between 25 and 44 percent of homeless people are employed. Yes, some homeless people do battle drug addiction. According to HUD, about 26 percent of homeless people do, but in a large number of cases the addiction arises AFTER a person loses their housing. Furthermore, most people who become addicted to drugs do so because they are looking for an escape. A large percentage of drug addicts were abused or neglected as children. They still deserve our sympathy and help. The system has already failed them. Compassion, decency, and honesty do not cost anything–except for the effort of looking at facts and not stereotypes.

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