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Camping by homeless in La Crosse parks leads citizens to ask park board for a remedy

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La Crosse homeowners are asking City Hall to do something about homeless people continuing to move into local parks.

At Thursday night’s Park Board meeting, speakers called on members to find places to shelter the people camping at parks, whether that means buying a hotel or finding other housing for them.

Two winters ago, the city spent several thousand dollars to house unsheltered people at a Rose Street motel during the cold weather in the midst of the pandemic.

The winter campground at Houska Park was cleared out in March, forcing some people to leave, and they’ve ended up at Cameron, Burns, and Goose Green parks.

La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry director Jay Odegaard said at the meeting when the downtown warming center closes for the season, the people who have sheltered there often head to the parks.

Homeowners talked about encounters they’ve had with unsheltered people, who are at the parks. They worry about the garbage and drug use they’re seeing on public property.

They told board members they don’t feel safe, and they worry that businesses might leave downtown La Crosse if the homelessness problem gets worse.

Garbage piled outside La Crosse’s Houska Park on Mar. 15, 2023 (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

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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45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. John Daly

    May 19, 2023 at 6:24 am

    Put the ones breaking the laws in jail for over a year. The word will get out that La Crosse enforces it’s laws and others will move on.

    Take the bird feeder down.

  2. sk

    May 19, 2023 at 9:36 am

    the motel cost hundreds of thousands of dollars…. no just thousand of dollars.
    The money could have been put towards a permanent solution.

  3. R head

    May 19, 2023 at 10:14 am

    Mitch has been screwing these up like everything else. You need to make them unwelcome. Run there ass out of town! Soon the government will find out La Crosse is a sanctuary city, how had that worked out go New York. Wake up dumd ass

    • J.B.Windbiel

      May 20, 2023 at 12:32 am

      TELL ME SIR WHERE ARE THEY SUPPOSE TO BE RUN OFF TO AND HOW WOULD THEY GET TO THIS SAID PLACE FAR FAR AWAY WHERE YOU WANT THEM TO LIVE? YOU GONNA DRIVE THEM THERE? OF COURSE NOT SO YOUR ANSWER HAS NO WORTH MAYBE LIKE YOU. WE ONLY SEE IN OTHERS WHAT WE DONT LIKE TO SEE IN OURSELVES OR FEAR GETS TO YOU DEEP INSIDE THEN REARS ITS UGLY HEAD COMING OUT IN NONSENSE ANGER. SO IF YOUR IDEA IS TO RUN THEIR DUMBASSES OUT OF TOWN THEN SHOULDNT YOU GO WITH THEM CONSIDERING YOUR A D.A. too?

    • Julie

      May 20, 2023 at 7:46 am

      For being a community so concerned about tourism and the big tour boats docking, this homeless problem is a huge detriment. Tourists are not going to venture into our city with this plague. Every park is hurt by this so much so that I couldn’t find a safe place for a family picnic. Quit making it so easy for them and so difficult for the productive population.

      • Cynthia Soller

        June 26, 2024 at 6:36 pm

        Having spent time in California, I question whether we will stay in lacrosse. I don’t think there was one block that you didn’t see a homeless drug addict or two living in the landscaping, and this was around the Disney theme parks. Rather than moving them constantly from one location to the next someone got the bright idea to allow them the use of Houska park and pay for their housing over winter. No one needs to see statistics to know the problem is 10 times worse than before covid. Most of these individuals are not even from our community, and the cases of mental illness are from prolonged drug use. We can not save them. You can not force them into treatment, but we do have the right to protect our families and the community we share and pay taxes for. The sad truth is they are not nor do they wish to be law abiding members of our community. We all have to work together or society breaks down. As much as many of you sympathize with the homeless, there are more of us that do not. these are not people experiencing hard times. We have resources for that. These individuals have made a lifestyle choice, that causes their behavior to be a danger to our community. I do believe we should offer help and set up rules that they must abide by and when that fails they need to leave our community. If you feel we are wrong wanting them gone, donate your time and money or open your doors for a homeless person. Don’t push them into our backyards because you dont know what else to do..

    • Wendy

      May 20, 2023 at 9:53 am

      I don’t know who ur talking about I “ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH YOU”. I am all for “HELPING CERTAIN PPL” who u can tell just had a set back. However…. many of these ppl “LIKE” being on the streets, and La Crosse is the “ONLY” place I have ever witnessed that Babies and coddles these homeless, so why on earth would they EVER LEAVE LA CROSSE!!!!

    • [email protected]

      May 20, 2023 at 10:44 am

      Jesus Christ

    • J

      May 20, 2023 at 5:22 pm

      I used to do drugs… I was a loser! That’s where I grabbed from. Make the low life’s get a job or go away

    • Vic

      May 21, 2023 at 4:31 pm

      Wow I’m sure your kids just LOGE to come home as see you during holidays. I’m sure it’s the light of their year and they don’t need mind altering substances to get through it.

  4. Sr

    May 19, 2023 at 10:18 pm

    The homeless do not appreciate anything given to them. They have cell phones, needles, free lodging that all taxpayers are forking out. Since they don’t have anything else to do ALL day/night long, have them earn their keep. Community service, keeping the parks cleaned up that they are destroying. Quit giving handouts. The more you give, the more they expect. THAT’S MY HARD EARNED MONEY YOU’RE THROWING AWAY!!

  5. Revolving Door

    May 20, 2023 at 7:16 am

    Why would anyone suggust purchasing a hotel? How about a 1 way bus ticket out of town?

    Have you ever heard, build it and they shall come? How about attracting someone else to our City?

    Or.. if you honestly feel that bad? Have then stay at your home. Several great solutions.

  6. R. Francis

    May 20, 2023 at 7:40 am

    You look like the dumb ass the way talk. Not all homeless people act or use drugs. With the ones that can’t be respectful should ran out of town. So what about the people who have houses and use drugs, should we run them out of town and treat them like how you are saying? There is nothing wrong about being homeless, it is people act that we have problems with. Treat everyone how you want to be treated, we all have problems/issues but at the end of the day we are all human beings with feelings!!!!

  7. Emily Skogen

    May 20, 2023 at 9:24 am

    Many people have commented that they don’t shop the businesses in Cameron Park area anymore because of the homeless people there. Something needs to be done. What is the solution?

  8. Ann Goldman

    May 20, 2023 at 10:40 am

    I am a vendor at the Cameron Park Farmers Market. One of the reasons we’re only having market on Friday nights now and not Saturday morning also is because of the homeless. I’ve spoken to many many people who will not come down to the Cameron Park Farmers Market because of the homeless there. Last night I was verbally attacked and abused by a man who went off on me when he asked me for a dollar and I said no. I think he was having some kind of schizophrenic episode at me and it’s lucky he didn’t get physically violent at me. There are very violent fights between the homeless while the farmers market is going on. There are homeless who collapse and all the EMTs have to come with a big fire trucks and take them out of the park. This is not good for any shopping down there and there is no enjoyment of Cameron Park for any citizen who pays taxes in this City. I’ve been told there’s nothing that the park board can do because the city isn’t doing anything. I was told that the city wanted to decriminalize the homeless so now they’re letting them sleep wherever they want to. Do drugs. Drink. The school on the corner of 5th and King Street children cannot go to the park now and have lunch because of the homeless and the homeless yelling at them. They have to have their lunch in the parking lot. Why don’t we as citizens have any rights. Do I have to wait until somebody attacks me down at the park before the police actually remove them and not allow them to come back? Or get them help, which I realize will never happen the way the legal and mental health system is set up.

    • Wendy

      May 20, 2023 at 11:49 am

      I AM SO SORRY u guys have to go through this shit. I an on ur side COMPLETELY. I am a King Dyree resident and just 2 days ago Dominic Hernandez had wanted to test drive a scooter I have for sale, and NEVER came back!!!! He looked like a college kid (cause if I would of known he was one of the trouble makers ect, he def would not have been around it) and he NEVER came back!!!! I filed report and then “I went and looked for it for 3 hours and found the guy!!!! I have had them on my porch, steps etc. If ANYONE wants to take this up MORE and push the ISSUE I am GLADLY WILLING TO BACK ANYONE UP

    • Jamie

      May 20, 2023 at 1:16 pm

      So according to you all homeless fight and do drugs and you almost got in a fight with 1 because he asked for a dollar and you said no and of course you thought he was going to get physical with you which he didn’t but he must have mental health problems! Also they pass out and need BIG fire trucks because if anyone else passes out they wouldn’t need a BIG fire truck. How about some empathy try that. Maybe a wave or a hello might go a long way. I understand the problem but all homeless don’t do drugs and most are just down on their luck. Do unto others as you have them do unto you.

    • Christopher Bagstad

      May 20, 2023 at 9:14 pm

      Encampments such as these are a blight in and around the community. The local government “do-nothing” approach is common because they don’t really know what to do. Many of these people are not homeless in the sense of bad economy, but the result of continuing drug use with absolutely no regard for anyone around them.
      They need to hold individuals accountable for damage to parks and trespass anyone and everyone who causes problems. Tough love is needed, so to speak.
      Stop letting people camp in the parks!! But do something!

    • Robert Harlan

      May 20, 2023 at 10:44 pm

      Do the citizens of Lacrosse know the surrounding cities, towns and communities dump their homeless people in Lacrosse?

    • Mary E Beyer

      May 21, 2023 at 6:50 pm

      Well, it’s far easier to befriend people than alienate them. The homeless from my understanding are being roused sometime around 3:00-4:00 a m. They are forced to relocate at that ungodly time,just so the good citizens of LaCrosse can have unfettered access to THEIR MANY parks. Why not select three suitable CITY OWNED PROPERTIES, put it to the people referendum style, as a first, second,and third choice for building a new homeless shelter, and next year, JUST DO IT.

      Enough is enough is enough already. Stop the madness. You could have purchased multiple sites by now, for the 3.2 million spent just in the past three years alone. What have you to show for it? Im done.

      Look, I myself was homeless in Houska Park TWO YEARS AGO. You didn’t want the homeless there either. Now, it’s apparently Cameron Park, a privately owned piece of property smack in the heart of downtown that’s verboten. Why? The homeless have utilized that park for the past twenty years, it isn’t publicly owned, and why is this year proving more difficult for these disparate groups to get along. I’ve been in that park literally hundreds of times. I’ve watched the children at play. The homeless stay away, only engaging with them, if a ball gets away, by having the kindness to toss it back.

      The truth is, none of you want the homeless in your pristine city, ANYWHERE. Personally, I’ve heard enough excuses. If you don’t have a heart, shop at another farmers market. It won’t kill you. If your child complains about a homeless person harassing them, return them to public schools in your OWN NEIGHBORHOODS. I’m tired of your antiquated fears ruling the roost at city hall.

  9. Ashley

    May 20, 2023 at 12:52 pm

    Tell the homeless to get a job, there are plenty of jobs hiring. They are only homeless because they are lazy and don’t want
    To. It should be get a job or get out of the park. They should get a job because people have to work to get a job and there shouldn’t be any homeless at all. So they need to work or get kicked out of the park. People should go on strike to get them out. People are allowed to protest.

  10. Nancy Ames

    May 20, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    There, but for the grace of God, go I.

  11. Melissa Neuenfeldt

    May 20, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    You people that have commented on this have the right to say what you want. I just want to remind people that not all homeless are the same. Some are perfectly straight and only homeless as a result of some bad luck. They are great people down on their luck. The ones that are making the trouble should be dealt with accordingly while the others shouldn’t be put in the category as the nasty homeless. Have you guys ever had bad financial luck? Had kids you had to take care of with no way to do it? There is no excuse for the nasty garbage all over the place and drugs and drinking. If you can’t afford ato provide for your children you can’t afford the drugs and drinking plain and simple. If your down on your luck and have to use the parks then at least RESPECT IT. TAKE CARE OF THE LAND AND IT WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU!! DONT WRECK IT FOR EVERYONE. Even with a few bad apples you can make get rid of them and still make a GREAT pie!! People put yourself in their shoes once and have some compassion please it will make everyone happier.

  12. lisa

    May 20, 2023 at 2:24 pm

    Our government has its head up so far up its ass I’m surprised it can even see no they can’t see what they see is helping every other country but yet we have veterans and homeless people with mental health issues wandering the streets there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever for this you can’t tell me that this government can can’t put up adequate housing and healthcare for these people but they can give 180 billion to a war that has no business of ours being in the government works for the people the people must stand up and be heard instead of let around like a bunch of brainless sheep

  13. Jon

    May 20, 2023 at 4:20 pm

    Here is a brief list of causes that have historically created temporary homelessness.

    *War (Veterans)
    *Natural Disasters (Hurricane Katrina)
    *Illness (Physical or Mental)
    *Addiction
    *Unforeseen Financial Difficulties (Great Depression)
    *Unjust Landlords

    In some of those circumstances some kind of community relief was created to house the homeless if there was no risk for those providing the assistance. Incarceration was a solution in some communities across the nation during the 19th century. In olden times individuals with a meager surplus would aid the homeless with food or housing. My grandmother who lived on a farm in Iowa during the 1920’s & 30’s remembers the homeless or hungry arriving at their farm many times. Her father used his discretion and aided the homeless, or “bums” as she put it, in any way he could. She said emphatically that back then the term “bum” did not have the meaning it does today. She said she had fond memories of those bums. She did hint that there were some occasions of disrespect, but that the situation was quickly remedied. She didn’t go into detail.

  14. Cordarro G Pena

    May 20, 2023 at 4:47 pm

    My family and I live by the park across the street from the library and my wife nor myself will no longer go to that park with our three younger kids anymore. We feel uncomfortable and the things that the homeless discard on the ground and not in the trash bin that’s 2 feet away. We shouldn’t have to be worried about being asked for money and or a cigarette. Every park is infested with drunk and or falling asleep standing up homelessness. What park can we go to that’s close to our house without having people sleeping all around the playground? Clean the dam junk up out of our parks.wtf man.

  15. Eugene Mueller

    May 20, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    I am from out of town and we stopped at the park to let the kids burn off some energy. Ater seeing this disgusting collection of tents and trash (human and otherwise) we immediately left.

  16. Bill Steven

    May 20, 2023 at 6:46 pm

    There are laws on the books to deal with this situation. Never had this problem until Mitch Reynolds the mayor who said after he was elected that the homeless problem has always bothered him and that if he were to ever be in a position to do some thing he would. Well he became mayor spent two million dollars on the poor homeless only to have them destroy a hotel and a city park. But I bet Mitch never spent a dime of his own money or invited a poor homeless person into his home in the dead of the Wisconsin winter. Typical liberal democrat he cares but not enough to spent his own money and time on it.

  17. Vicky l Revels

    May 20, 2023 at 7:12 pm

    OK everybody, this has gotten to be pretty darn dangerous ( locations they pick) Why not the old Kmart building, or Pettibone park. Why not think about our old Park/Zoo. Its empty. We trusted our animals to live there.
    We all could hold monthly meetings, it does have a few (storm) shelter. Whe’re not going to get rid of them so let’s let them know we are willing to work with them.
    LaCrosse has always been our homes.

  18. Jerry

    May 20, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    I don’t want the homeless around town because of the crime/crazy element. The citizens of La Crosse need to stand up for this. No sanctuary or decriminalization for the homeless. Kick them out – one way bus ticket out-of-town.

  19. Wow so hateful

    May 20, 2023 at 8:57 pm

    Ann Goldman wow that’s so shitty that happened to you but not all the same and not are all drunks or drug addicts.some have some things on there record that stops them from getting a place to live.. some times it’s not about addiction but a bigger part of there story that’s not being looked past.. so not all the homeless are bad people I am not a either but have a bad past. And criminal record And I am a hard worker pay my bills but they can’t look past the bad. But yet again I am no longer homeless for some one could look past my bad and look at the good…. And for R HEAD they are still people how about they run you out of ur home for something you sometimes don’t have the power to change…

  20. Mike Kelly

    May 20, 2023 at 11:22 pm

    Where is the compassion for these unfortunates. If we can give billions in tax breaks to the ultra rich we can feed and house the poor.

  21. David

    May 21, 2023 at 2:31 am

    Most of those people are not even from the area. It’s like they are being bused in or something I get it life is hard but parks are for the children and family gathering ect.. I’ve been in la crosse for over29 years and I never seem a homeless person until about 2 to 3 years ago. I even see them sleeping downtown on the sidewalk it’s definitely out of hand. Leave the parks alone. Leave people businesses alone. Stop begging get a job go to work or something.

  22. Kenneth Schliesmann

    May 21, 2023 at 6:41 am

    Put these people to work, but that will not work , because the lack of affordable housing.
    Rent is way to God darn high in lacrosse and surrounding area.

  23. Dustin

    May 21, 2023 at 8:00 am

    The mayor needs to step up and look at the rental corporations whose rules and regulations are very strict. We have over 2000 sex offenders that are homeless because of the these regulations along with the homeless even though many of them of the homeless have the money to pay for a place to rent if the corporations have the ability to make it so that they can choose this severity of who can rent from the homeless population is going to keep going up

  24. Jimmie V

    May 21, 2023 at 8:01 am

    Here’s an idea. How about asking the city and state to body support, and possibly recovery avenues for these people? No one is ever homeless by choice. Mental health issues, drug use due to life situations or self-educating a mental illness, physical health problems preventing adequate employment, past trauma from things like domestic violence, and many myriad of issues causes homelessness. If the state and city were actually proactive in providing avenues for therapy, counseling, comprehensive health care, employment, affordable rent and rent to own programs would greatly reduce our eliminate this issue altogether. This is not on the parks board this is strictly on a state and city government that doesn’t care about people. Clean up the government, and lend proper aid to those people will prevent and eliminate the homeless issue.

  25. BK

    May 21, 2023 at 10:24 am

    It’s time to wake up LaCrosse voter’s and vote everyone of your council members and mayor out of office. It’s the only way they listen.

  26. Heidi

    May 21, 2023 at 10:26 am

    Maybe, just maybe we could talk about the unsheltered like they are actual people? Just a thought. I hope this issue is in everyone’s face so much that our government is forced to do something about the root causes of this situation. Our minimum wage is $7.25, average 1 bedroom cost $850 with the requirements usually sitting at 30% of income for housing this means an individual working full-time would have $376 for rent. To afford the Average rental cost in this area you would need to make roughly $16.35 an hour (for a 1 bdrm). Cost of living, low wages, poor water quality, lack of mental health help, and lack of affordable housing option all need to be addressed.

  27. Pat Ferguson

    May 21, 2023 at 12:16 pm

    Back to houska. They had med care one location

  28. Lou

    May 21, 2023 at 4:30 pm

    The city really needs to find a solution to get these people into housing so they can be productive members of the community again. Yes, I mean free housing, not reduced housing.

  29. O

    May 21, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    Mitch came out as a mayor and why I voted for him because he PROMISED TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM. WE ARE VERY DISAPPOINTED IN HIM AND he looks and sounds very incompetent. I hope he won’t be re-elected! It’s not homeless people fault, we have money to fix this problem. Sometimes it feels like he has no idea what he is doing really.

  30. W Davis

    May 21, 2023 at 7:58 pm

    Half- measures will avail you nothing!
    Either end it or leave them alone. Provide meals , sanitation. Hire a park attendant to address needs. Above all treat them like humans. End it doesn’t mean drive them out into the hoods. A dirty drug community is still a community. Easier to monitor.
    Not that hard. A failure to plan. Why, it is a plan to fail.
    Stop electing the libtard with the soft heart! the ones that can’t balance their own account or put their house in order!

  31. Walden

    May 21, 2023 at 11:22 pm

    WIZM says “the City spent thousands” of dollars…”

    Is this a mis-print? The City and County have spent millions each to support the homeless over the last few years. My guess is $10 million total including the indirect payments through the La Crosse non-profits and damage to parks and rented hotels. I suppose we will never know the exact amount.

  32. Mary

    May 25, 2023 at 10:52 pm

    When did the city start allowing the homeless to camp in Cameron Park. Years ago, camping was never allowed. We need to enforce the no camping in City Park regulations again.

  33. david greener

    May 26, 2023 at 5:14 am

    We have seen what happens when you give them a place to live (Huska Park)They wont live in any space away from populated areas. Has anybody tried free bus tickets out of town, maybe California. I think the money that has already been spent would have bought a lot of bus tickets.

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