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City, county leaders hold joint meeting in La Crosse to work on common responses to local homelessness



A La Crosse Police SUV is parked on King Street, across from Cameron Park on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, where multiple homeless people are staged on both sides of the street. (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

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.

A crowd of around 70 sit in the La Crosse City Council chambers on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, while city and county leaders discuss the homeless situation in the area. (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

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.”

Homeless people camping at Cameron Park on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, while city and county leaders, across town at city hall, are discussing their situation (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

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.”

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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  1. john

    June 7, 2023 at 10:25 am

    Give the homeless a decision, do they want help! Or not? The ones that want help need to be on a strict plan! Recourced, for getting off drugs and alcohol, with daily testing! 2nd recourced on getting work and maintaining a job! 3rd, resourced help on finding a place to live. 4th, paying rent on time!

    For the ones that do want help, arrest them. Especially if they are doing drugs and drinking in public. High bail, so they can detox. Then give one more chance at wanting help!

    If they violate any of the conditions and they are not from La Crosse, take them back to where they are from! If they have any drugs on them, put them in jail again with high bail! Need to do something about all the needles that are left all over the place! Get strict about tents, having a fire, or sleeping in the park! Kid gloves need t9 be taken off!
    If they don’t want mental health help, or any help from the resources that are available to them, then they need to be removed! Tax payers should not have to pay for these people!

    I believe in giving help and chances! But not to one’s that don’t want it, and continue to be a menace to the community!

  2. R head

    June 7, 2023 at 11:41 am

    All the talking head in one place to discuss how too piss more money away on the lazy worthless people. Get real these people are her because you keep giving them things wake up!!!!!!

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