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La Crosse Mayor Reynolds asks why others aren’t offering to help homeless: “They got the parks or they got nothing, and that’s not the truth.”



In the past, La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds has taken responsibility to be the focal point of the homeless situation in La Crosse.

And, with a recent meeting last week, more onus will be on the city, and perhaps the county, as they announced a partnership in taking a leadership role to address those who have no place to live.

But on La Crosse Talk PM this week, Reynolds alluded that, perhaps the focus shouldn’t simply be what the city is or isn’t doing to help people get off the streets and out of living in parks.

La Crosse Talk PM airs weekdays at 5:06 p.m. Listen on the WIZM app, online here, or on 92.3 FM / 1410 AM / 106.7 FM (north of Onalaska). Find all the podcasts here or subscribe to La Crosse Talk PM wherever you get your podcasts.

The city-county meeting will put more focus, more responsibility on both governments to address the ongoing situation, but judging from the mayor’s tone, his city is already getting all of the blame and taking on most of the burden.

“One of the keys for me is to remember that we keep couching this debate in terms of — and this happened the other night too at the council meeting — they (the homeless) got the parks or they got nothing, and that’s not the truth,” Reynolds said. “That’s not true at all. The parks aren’t the fallback plan. The parks aren’t the only other place that people can go.

“It’s about the city and the parks,” Reynolds continued. “Well, parks aren’t a place to live. You can’t thrive there. You can barely exist there. But somehow, that seems to be the fallback for everybody in this community. It’s parks or nothing, and that’s a fallacy. It’s not the case. And I think a lack of imagination by some in our community that are leading us to that conclusion. And it’s just, it’s utter nonsense.”

FILE – EMTs help someone to a stretcher at Cameron Park on May 5, 2023 (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

Over the past month, the homeless situation has been brought up in numerous city meetings but Reynolds believes the situation is broader than just the city.

“I have not heard one person say, ‘Why don’t we let them camp in county parks for free because there are actual showers and toilets there?’” Reynolds said. “I haven’t heard anybody say that. 

“I haven’t heard one person say, ‘Why doesn’t UW-L open up its dorm rooms in the summer so that people can live there?’ Nobody has talked about that. Nobody’s talked about anybody camping on the UW-L campus. Nobody’s talked about the county opening up Hillview nursing home. There’s no outrage because there’s not churches lining up to put people in basements and parsonages.”

La Crosse Homeless Coordinator Brian Sampson, and county supervisor Isaac Hoffman on La Crosse Talk PM last week to discuss the city-county effort to take on a leadership role in helping homeless.

For the past two years, the city has taken the brunt of the homeless situation in the area — whether that’s through public outcry or media attention. The stories are mostly about the city renting out a motel for winter because shelters are full, due to a COVID-19 pandemic or converting Houska Park into a campground, so the homeless could stay there.

FILE – Garbage is piled outside La Crosse’s Houska Park on Mar. 15, 2023, after the city closed it as a campground, where many homeless stayed over the season (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

And the mayor wants to be the focal point, has said on past La Crosse Talk PM interviews, he wants that responsibility. The city has addressed homelessness four times in meetings in the past month.

“For the most part, folks who are living in parks or different alleys, or wherever are just trying to get by,” Reynolds said. “They have nowhere else to go and they need help, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

A month ago, people ended up at a La Crosse Parks Board meeting, of all places, to complain about homeless people being in the parks and near their homes — now that they’re no longer out of sight, out of mind at Houska Park.

Early last week, during that city-county announcement that they are heading a five-year plan to help the unsheltered, around 80 people showed up, while others watched online — and some spoke out.

A few days later, at the monthly city council meeting, a proposed ordinance change to camping in the park — which is already illegal — was put on hold for a month so as to get community input. Many spoke up in opposition, while a few supported the change.

“The NROs (Neighborhood Resource Officers) were not meant to just address homelessness,” Reynolds said. “They were not meant to pick up garbage, but that’s what they’ve been doing. And so, it absolutely is something, however, that they embrace because they understand how impactful they can be for these individuals and for the community as a whole. And so they’re tackling it and they’re doing tremendous work and they’re connecting people with services. 

“And some people, frankly, cause problems, and we deal with those roughly 10 people all the time.”

FILE – Tents and tarps line Houska Park in La Crosse, on Oct. 31, 2022, a day before the campground designation is set to end. (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

A lot of focus from the public, and agencies that work with homelessness, had been on the Houska Park camping plan that ended last spring. Now, however, the attention has focused on Cameron Park — perhaps because of the Friday farmers market. But this spring and summer, people with no place to live have ended up sprawled across the area, since there is no one place they’re allowed to congregate, and the city gets blamed for letting them stay in parks, and also gets blamed for making them leave.

“I think that’s something that needs to be addressed and people need to talk about that more,” Reynolds said of citing homeless people for being in a park, “so that when we are being scolded, when our personnel and our police are being scolded at a city council meeting about how they’re addressing the needs of the homelessness — as they’re trying to connect them with services.But when we’re being chided by the public for that, I think it’d be nice if someone would say, ‘You know, I don’t know why the county doesn’t open up Goose Island for people to camp for free down there, since there’s toilets and showers.’” 

As for giving citations to homeless for being in parks illegally, which happened a lot back in the summer of 2020, Reynolds said, “The goal is not to hand people citations and, in fact, it doesn’t even matter if we hand them citations because Judge (Dennis) Marcou will throw them out anyway, because he doesn’t make him pay.”

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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  1. Kent Porter

    June 16, 2023 at 6:31 am

    How about locking them up for drug possession

    • Hank Kasson

      July 10, 2023 at 1:46 am

      Not every homeless person is addicted to drugs or alcohol! Smfh!

  2. Frank Mihalovic

    June 16, 2023 at 7:18 am

    Why can’t they use the empty jail pod? Pod K or L one of those are empty.

  3. R head

    June 16, 2023 at 7:35 am

    The homeless don’t pay taxes for parks if Mitch is so worried about the homeless let them camp in his yard, maybe they could help his wife with her work in the house
    The could have a cook out or maybe a smog or with the neighbors!!!!!!

  4. Kevin Keeffe

    June 16, 2023 at 10:29 am

    I don’t disagree with the premise – who is there to help these folks, when i was hungry did you feed me, when i was homeless did you house me….That said Mitch – everything the city has tried has resulted in 10s if not 100s of thousands of dollars of ‘fix & repair’! Who has those deep pockets? We have ’empty’ shop-ko stores sitting around, those stores have roofs, bathrooms, space. Those could be immediately utilized to provide housing to the homeless and a place to pitch their tents. The city of LaCrosse, under your watch has created a magnet community, thank you for exasperating a problem, that if it had been left in it’s original state may have been possible to handle. You invited more than the city can handle and brought the community with you. When you hatched this camping plan, you should have started with an all call to the churches, organizations, etc that typically address this problem, to my knowledge – you did not, you created this mess, you committed community resources that you don’t own, and now you are saying ‘why aren’t you stepping up’! This is a problem that will ‘never’ go away, we will always have this issue, the problem is – how do you sustain help with out becoming an enabler!

    • Brandon

      June 19, 2023 at 4:09 pm

      Exactly! You have good intentions but these people need a hand up not a hand out and tents and old hotels here are not the solution.

  5. Ryan Harris

    June 16, 2023 at 11:06 am

    How about not being cynical, snarky assholes guys.

  6. JBert

    June 16, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    There’s actually a simple solution. Take FROM the homeless, rather than giving to them. Deploy K-9 units to all location with homeless people. When the dogs find drugs, confiscate them. Keep it up until the dogs no longer find drugs or until everyone who does live on public property is clean. Those who refuse to stop buying drugs will leave or go broke. Once the drugs are gone, let’s talk.

    • Pat Z

      July 6, 2023 at 9:30 pm

      Oh my God this idiot mayor just can’t see the mess he has created and blames everyone else for his incompetence, everytime he opens his mouth he sticks both feet in it, maybe if one term Mitch would listen to his radio broadcasts he would realize what a idiot he is, he was nothing but a average radio mouth that over promised the people to get elected and with no experience for the job and systemically destroying our city parks, and now our lame arse city council doing the same, I say open all parks to be designated campgrounds so they can all start trashing Riverside Park, then maybe the good people of LaCrosse will finally see something get done with the mess one term Mitch created and has no guts to fix his mess

  7. Nick

    June 16, 2023 at 1:22 pm

    I have said this before. California has spent 17 billion over the last four years and it has gotten worse. Why would UW of L or Viterbo or any private school open their doors when fixing the hotel cost over $10,000.
    I understand, in clearing Houska Park, a large hole was dug to bury all the needles.
    The Salvation Army and churches are doing all they can already.
    Instead of the mayor complaining, why does he not come up with a viable plan. Buying a Shopko is a good idea but would probably increase the homeless population since others would come.
    A no drug policy would help if you used a Shopko type building.
    Quite frankly, some of the homeless want to be left alone and be homeless

  8. John

    June 20, 2023 at 6:07 am

    We already fund multiple drug and financial assistance programs via our ever increasing taxes. It’s the resposibility of the people we have elected to precisely your governmental positions, to use those funds appropriately to solve social issues like this. Sit down, do your job, and figure something out. That being said, some people are beyond help, and have no desire to better their own situations. Good luck.

  9. Rita Schmitz

    June 20, 2023 at 10:35 am

    The reason they don’t go to Goose Island & camp for free is that Goose Island charges people to camp there…and people pay for that privilege. There are rules that are followed. EA: don’t trash what isn’t yours (hotel on North side, rings a bell)! I do believe in helping others, but there needs to be responsibility on the part of those being helped. If one has a drug problem, mandatory treatment program as part of the deal. WTC attempted to help some as well. Stay in school, get passing grades, help with work….from what I have heard, great intentions, EPIC fail. Many who ATTEMPTED, didn’t think rules applied to them. We can only help people who wish to be helped.


    June 22, 2023 at 9:22 am

    What about the affordable care act $ that La Crosse is still sitting on? There’s a viable solution here people mayor stop passing the buck here non profit grants are available also I would like too lift one from ground up but we need a emergency temporary fix until tour so called 5yr plan falls in place what about the homeless plan that gov evers proposed back in 2020? Yes COVID happens so what about in the now? It’s every humans right to be fairly houses wether or not u have a drug addiction. I’m a recovering drug addict my addiction doesn’t define who I am and never will

  11. Hank Kasson

    July 10, 2023 at 1:44 am

    I’m a former AneriCorps VISTA; I’m partially the reason that we have the LaCrosse Warming Center!
    Mayor Reynolds is ignorant about churches wanting to help house & feed the homeless!
    Churches could; house the homeless ; 1 week at a time!!
    I know that the English Lutheran Church; La crosse umc & st Joseph cathedral will gladly help the homeless!!
    Mayor renyolds refused to help the homeless!!

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