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.