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La Crosse city council sets July target date for ideas to house homeless

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People attend a La Crosse city council discussion on homelessness on June 18, 2024 (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

Setting a short-term goal to deal with a long-term problem in La Crosse.

That’s what the city council is directing some La Crosse department heads to do, in developing options for overnight shelter, to keep homeless people from camping in parks or the marsh.

Council member Barb Janssen said at a special meeting Monday city staffers are being instructed to generate new plans, within the next three weeks, “to come up with some possible alternative housing options or shelter ideas, how much it’s gonna cost, what resources you need.”

A resolution passed by the council had recommended setting up new temporary outdoor sites by the end of this week. However, the city police and fire chiefs said it would be difficult to act that quickly.

La Crosse Fire Chief Jeff Schott said nobody wants to repeat ideas that haven’t worked.

FILE – Tents are set up all around Houska Park on an August 2021 evening, where about 70 of La Crosse’s homeless camped that summer. (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

Schott added that it’s always his department’s purpose “to watch out for the welfare of anybody and move forward. I’m not sure this does that. I’m not sure it does not do that. “

“All I can say is that I think we all are aware of the potential unmitigated disaster that’s currently occurring just to the north of us right now,” Schott continued.

The resolution originally called on the city’s homeless service coordinator to provide new options within three weeks but council members discussed expanding that proposal to include more city departments.

Council member Erin Goggin said the homeless situation always comes back to the question “Where will they go?”

“We ought to give them a chance to go to a cleaner place, a safer place and a place were they can have a little basic human dignity,” Goggin added. “There is no dignity in the marsh.”

The city opened up Houska Park to outdoor camping one season to allow homeless to stay there, but will not return to a single encampment of that type again.

The city and county also tried to buy the old chamber of commerce building downtown, but when it came time to be purchased, another buyer, George Park, put down $2.1 million cash for the building, foiling the homeless plan.

The city then tried to buy a southside motel but didn’t go through with the deal after an inspection.

The county has 10 bridge housing units coming available when renovations on the Hillview Healthcare Center are complete.

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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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Bob N.

    June 18, 2024 at 6:58 am

    Some will come to the shelter, but will probably damage it. Don’t allow them to use drugs in the shelter or it will become a city-run drug market. But, of course, if they can’t use on the premises, they won’t be there. The Council doesn’t seem to understand that these people are addicts. The most important thing in their life is not a bed or a bath, it’s where their next fix is coming from. That’s why they flock to the river banks-no cops.

    • Matthew

      July 8, 2024 at 9:55 am

      Well if they took 1 of the 3 schools that are closing or have been closed ans made it a sleeping rooms ans charged like 50 bucks a month and 20 hours a week for those who couldn’t pay 250 a month for rent then they wouldn’t have the problems but they don’t use there heads and put a kitchen in every floor and no one would have to be on staff from the city and they were rebonding them any ways so yeah

  2. Come On Man

    June 18, 2024 at 7:58 am

    I’m confused.
    The Fire and Police chiefs run their own departments and now have to come up with ideas with what to do with the homeless population?
    Why the hell are we paying the city appointed homeless coordinator? Is that not his entire job?
    If he is not doing his job maybe he should be replaced with someone who can shed light on this issue with new ideas and solutions. If a city employee is not living up to their expectations then they should terminated. Let’s not kick this can down the road again and expect other city department heads who have their own departments to run try and solve the homeless crisis. This is not a plan for success.

  3. R Head

    June 18, 2024 at 8:24 am

    You can count on Mitch to screw it up. When is La Crosse going to figure it out these people want to be homeless. Let them be homeless somewhere else but the bran dead liberals can’t figure this out that why they are democrats!!!!!!

  4. Roy

    June 18, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    Neither this account or the one in the Tribune has any quotes from the Mayor. He’s been quiet on the homeless topic recently, have you noticed? A big difference from the way he was during the years when he set up Houska Park, the Econolodge, hired a Homeless Co-ordinator, and spent millions of public money on the dregs.
    He must be setting up his re-election campaign and he’s been told that the homeless issue is a political loser-distance yourself from it.
    What happened to Barb Janssen’s idea of letting the losers camp in the City Hall parking lot? She said City Hall has nice bathrooms for them. Now she passes the buck to the Police and Fire Department

    • walden

      June 19, 2024 at 11:34 am

      Mitch has figured out he doesn’t need to say anything since he has dolts on the council and the rest of the Homeless Industrial Complex to carry the load with an election less than a year away.

      Nothing has changed; if the mayor had his way these folks would be camped in every park in the city.

      Funny how all this works. Not so funny that nothing changes; the problems only get bigger. There are now multiple “homeless coordinators” and we will soon need a coordinator to coordinate the coordinators.

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