A public hearing at La Crosse’s city hall Tuesday to discuss plans in how to help with the local homeless population.
Area leaders at the meeting said they are crafting a five-year plan to put into place by next year help the unsheltered with the likely starting point being getting those people housing without conditions and connecting them with case workers.
La Crosse Homeless Coordinator Brian Sampson and La Crosse County Human Services director, Isaac Hoffman, will be on La Crosse Talk PM at 5:05 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the homeless situation further. Listen on the WIZM app, or on 92.3 FM / 1410 AM / 106.7 FM (north of Onalaska).
Gathered in the city council chambers were around 80 people, along with others watching online.
Around 80 people are living on the streets in the La Crosse area. Brian Sampson, the city’s homelessness coordinator, said the economic impact of having this many unsheltered people in this community exceeds $3 million a year.
Sampson said one goal is to get the homeless population down to what’s called Functional Zero.
“If an individual or household is experiencing homelessness, it’ll be rare, brief and nonrecurring,” Sampson said, defining Functional Zero. “In other words, our homelessness response system will be able to help get more people into housing every month, than people coming into our system.”
La Crosse County traditionally has not been involved in discussions of homelessness. County administrator Jane Klekamp suggested nobody really asked them to take part.
“Historically, I’m just gonna say, no one cared if we were at the table, because it was manageable,” Klekamp told city council and county board members, along with audience members. “It’s now that it is unmanageable, that we are gonna be at the table.”
La Crosse County’s human services director, Jason Witt, said the city and county are working on a unified approach.
“For example, a community like ours may decide that addressing the number of unsheltered individuals is the immediate priority,” Witt said. “And then make sure that staffing and funding across the entire system is working in mutually supportive ways to support that priority.”
Sampson said about 288 people are classified as unsheltered to where they need services, with about 80 actually living outdoors in La Crosse at this time — noting that most don’t like being in that situation.
“That’s one of my observations, going out with the outreach team,” Sampson said, “is the community and public aren’t happy with people sleeping in parks, and people sleeping in parks aren’t happy they’re sleeping in parks.”