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As I See It

An about face on response to homelessness



The city of La Crosse has tried a variety of ways to reduce the homeless population. However, none of those solutions have worked. So it seems the city is trying a different approach. Rather than coddling the unsheltered with free hotel rooms, or letting them live in a city park while providing them with water and electricity, the city is adopting more of a tough love approach. The latest homeless encampment that popped up near the Friendship Gardens has been torn down, with the city hauling away more than a hundred tons of garbage.  Those staying there were ordered to leave. The city is not trying to find them another place to live. That is a significant change in strategy from recent efforts, when the city made it a priority to house the unsheltered. La Crosse has also expanded the list of city properties where overnight camping is not allowed to encourage the homeless to move along. For years, critics of the city’s efforts to help the homeless claimed the plan wasn’t working, and was attracting more homeless to town to take advantage of the freebies. Now that the city is reversing course, and cracking down on homelessness, we will finally see if they were right.

Scott Robert Shaw serves as WIZM Program Director and News Director, and delivers the morning news on WKTY, Z-93 and 95.7 The Rock. Scott has been at Mid-West Family La Crosse since 1989, and authors Wisconsin's only daily radio editorial, "As I See It" heard on WIZM each weekday morning and afternoon.

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  1. Bob N.

    April 19, 2024 at 8:49 am

    As I’ve said for years..the solution to vagrancy is to not tolerate it.

    “Homeless” is a misnomer. These people are vagrants. The Tribune’s front-page story on the man and woman who have lived in a fallen-down tree in the Marsh covered with tarps is another sympathetic effort to gain support for the vagrants. This couple, saddled with years of drug addiction, live out their years in seclusion, camped on land that belongs to someone else. As long as they are allowed to live this way, they will not get better. They have only their own sick minds to confer with.

    A seemingly harsh action, making them move on, can often result in a realization that this way of living is no good and one or both will take a higher road back into society.

    The City’s worst mistakes were the Houska Park encampment, free food, toilet supplies and doctor visits and the EconoLodge winter. Over 100 vagrants housed and fed while they destroyed the hotel interior. Daily police calls to the site. Drug deals and violence. This is the face of enabling.

    Voters will decide who to blame for all this and demand a new direction. There is still time to stop this nonsense before it gets out of control as it is in many cities, caused by the same liberal “solutions”. We all know whose bright idea, coddling the vagrants, has been.

  2. waldenhuthut

    April 19, 2024 at 10:46 pm

    Not sure if it’s an about face in policy but it seems all the failures have at least brought the matter full circle. We’ll see whats next. There are many homeless related jobs at non-profits funded with taxes and grants that also won’t just go away.

    The downtown is noticeably healthier looking but still a work in progress.

  3. Madison

    April 21, 2024 at 9:55 am

    I supported the initial approaches the Mayor took and I voted for him. No one else was talking about this issue and it needed to be addressed. Now I can say, in hindsight, obviously the hotel situation should never be repeated.

    If you took someone in off the street and let them stay in a guest bedroom for ex, you’d think they would be appreciative and it would help them get on their feet, hold a job etc. The opposite happened. They damaged the place worse than any other guests.
    It’s odd to think we paid for a big drug and alcohol fueled party, but that’s basically what took place. Then, on top of that, we also paid for damages caused.

    We have to put the unhoused in different categories. Those with drug, alcohol, and addiction issues (who won’t appreciate help, will accept money/resources but those will go into lining their dealers pockets) and those who will absolutely take advantage of resources.

    This has to be done on a case by case situation. Houska was a absolute disaster. As soon as more people came from other communities, it became clear our offer to help was resulting in being taken advantage of. I don’t blame the Mayor and council for trying theses solutions, but now that we’ve done it, it’s clear we cannot go that route again. That’s not what I voted for.

    This is not an easy solution. But where we can give help is on as case by case situation. This means no more enabling of drug/alcohol addict lifestyle. That is a sinking ship. They will accept more money, time, and help than we have to give and still not be any better. We learned, even if we do that, we make things worse through attracting a larger population of unhoused.

    So as bad as it feels to say, we cannot create a welcoming environment for this situation to flourish. We cannot overlook laws. We cannot allow people to take over parking garages, give free space in parks, or let tents pop up on places where the dwellers do not own the property.

    If they cannot change, and are not able to get help on a case by case situation (meaning they will be held accountable or kicked out), then they will need to find places out of sight. And if those places are found (drug activity, police calls, theft, violence, etc) then they will need to be moved. Until they learn that behavior will not be tolerated.

    It’s sad to think about the millions we spent with no return, but I would argue that had to happen in order for us to achieve the current awareness we have now. It is clear we did need to understand the problem better. Now that we know any form of enabling will not help them, not help us, but only make the situation worse for everyone, we have to true tough work in front of us.

    Yes that will mean a different approach. Initially, I was ready to say I can’t vote for Mayor Reynolds again, but he is a smart guy and has a big heart. I get the impression that the city changing directions means they understand these things too. It’s too early to say whether they can stay the course on a new “tough love” approach. But if he does continue with the latest approach he will continue to have my support. The city of La Crosse does have a big heart, we don’t want to see people doing poorly, and right wing policies won’t work here so we do need to find that middle ground.

    But when it comes to drugs and supporting addiction lifestyle, theft, violence and taking over parks, it’s clear we do need someone with a backbone who can follow through with the tough love approach. The party may be over, but we also need more resources into the programs that do help those who want/ agree to be held accountable.

    I will continue to support Mayor Reynolds if he’s the guy (and he clearly has the experience now) or someone else of we need a different direction. Whoever can do the job in a way that is empathetic, but based in reality. We have finite resources.

    Thanks for the article and highlighting the issue. I do hope this summer is different and we see some changes. As the weather gets nicer, when we take our kids to the parks, I do not want to find dirty needles and broken glass. That is not a sign of progress, that is a sign of a broken city.

    • Rick Solem

      April 23, 2024 at 3:19 am

      Homeless people were put in hotels solely because of the COVID-19 during the winter, when shelters were full and people needed their own spaces. That’s it. That’s the only reason the city used American Rescue Plan Act funding for hotels one winter.

      • waldenhuthut

        April 24, 2024 at 11:01 pm

        Nope. You are conflating issues. The hotel disasters were several and over multiple years (and not all on Mitch’s watch) and taxpayer funds other than ARPA were also used…as in local tax funds.

        My unofficial tally (because there is no real transparency in these matters) is $15 million spent by the City/County over the last 10 years as the homeless situation festered. ARPA funds could have been deployed to other uses instead of subsidizing homeless encampments that destroyed the downtown area, countless thefts and more serious crimes, and loss of historic buildings.

        Nice try though.

      • Kent Porter

        May 7, 2024 at 8:09 am


  4. Teresa S

    April 21, 2024 at 12:12 pm

    People should look at the solution to homelessness in Houston TX. They have cut their homelessness in early in half. They are providing affordable housing. There is no eliminating homelessness. These are people who cannot get housing or jobs without help. Bulldozing them away doesn’t eliminate the problem. All that does is cause more hardship and forcing them to move somewhere else. It doesn’t solve the problem. We will always have homelessness. But if we can help a few start over humanly, that makes more sense to me. These are people who need help. I realize not all people will be able to be helped. Their problems might be too great. But treating another human respectfully goes a long way.

  5. waldenhuthut

    April 24, 2024 at 11:09 pm

    Teresa, by “affordable housing” you really mean free housing. Soviet style government housing projects have been tried and failed miserably. Housing is barely affordable to a working couple with children.

    And yes, force the homeless to move somewhere else; why do you think they moved to La Crosse?

    Fentenyl that was previously very expensive is now relatively cheap due to no effective border control and huge supplies. Maybe approach the problem at the root cause?

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