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While La Crosse government continues to address homelessness on multiple fronts, Wisconsin’s state Legislature does nothing



FILE - 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)

Both city and county governments in La Crosse continue to address homelessness on multiple fronts. 

Seemingly every idea is unpopular to someone — from camping bans to giving free rental apartments — which is why it’s such a divisive issue.

One group, though, isn’t stressing over homelessness at all. Wisconsin’s state Legislature simply ignores the homeless crisis.

Republican Wisconsin state Assembly Rep. Loren Oldenburg said last week on La Crosse Talk PM that, in his six years, homelessness has not been addressed in the Legislature.

Wisconsin Assembly Rep. Loren Oldenburg in the WIZM studio for La Crosse Talk PM on July 1.

Oldenburg represents the 96th District, south of La Crosse. He could, however, inherit the south side of the city with new maps if he wins the fall election. 

He mentioned on WIZM that La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds has brought up homelessness with him a few times.

“He called me even before the redistricting,” Oldenburg said. “He said, ‘Hey, this is an issue.’ And he said, ‘Hey, this has to be addressed at the state level.’ 

“Through three terms that I’ve been (in the Legislature), homeless legislation has really not come up,” Oldenburg added.

The possibility of taking on the south side of La Crosse, though, has Oldenburg more engaged with the issue.

“ Very interesting,” Oldenburg said of homelessness, “once I realized, OK, La Crosse, it’s very, it’s in the paper every two or three weeks. So it is an issue up here in La Crosse because it is on the news. It’s something going on.

“So I’ll be very interested in going forward and see what kind of legislation that’s been out there. What do we already have on the books? How do we fund it? Is there any funding as far as available for these local municipalities that they can tap in? And then what does, what do other states do?”

Another problem, though, is the Wisconsin Legislature is out of session until after the election. It’s been out of session since mid-March — save for one day when the Senate met to try and override some governor vetoes. 

So, whatever Oldenburg learns over these next few months on the homeless issue would mean nothing if he’s not re-elected. 

“ The expectation is that somehow our communities have to shoulder this load and the state doesn’t have to do a damn thing,” Reynolds said Monday on La Crosse Talk PM. “The federal government doesn’t have to lift a finger. And yet we’re the ones that have to somehow support these entire communities of unsheltered individuals because these other communities aren’t provided resources or there’s no organization or coordination at the state or federal level.

“And that’s the thing that’s most asinine about this. And that’s why it’s ridiculous for lawmakers to simply shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Yep, I don’t know. I guess, uh, we’ll do it next time,’ because they won’t. And that’s what is creating this crisis.”

La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds in the WIZM studio for La Crosse Talk PM on July 8.

Oldenburg also noted on WIZM he had not yet looked into Crosse’s city and county governments’ five-year plan to end homelessness called Pathways Home, which was unveiled six months ago.

“ I’ve not dove into that,” Oldenburg said. “The biggest thing with my conversation with the mayor was, he really would like to see something done at the state level. This was roughly a year or so ago, we had a conversation, one morning on something else and then he mentioned (homelessness).”

Reynolds pointed out that even Oldenburg’s current district still butts right up to La Crosse and those living there might work in the city. Plus, homeless people may end up in La Crosse, because the surrounding communities don’t — or can’t — address it.

“You have communities that have no shelter, no services of any kind,” Reynolds said, “And so the expectation is that those individuals go to places like La Crosse, because that’s where the services are. And that is the expectation. And that’s why this whole system is so broken.”

Reynolds added that he was running out of ideas in getting the Legislature’s attention.

“I don’t know how to make this a plainer case,” he said. “That there has to be some way to address this comprehensively on a regional or statewide basis, or we are going to fail. We’re going to fail in our communities. And if we fail in our communities, we’re going to fail as a state.”

UW-La Crosse political science professor, Dr. Anthony Chergosky, noted that it tends to be ignored the higher you go up in government, because it’s a political loser to campaign on.

“ It could be that type of situation where there’s only political downside for politicians,” Chergosky said on La Crosse Talk PM. “ It’s a really tough issue. It is politically dangerous to deal with this issue. And there don’t seem to be easy answers, even as some communities have had more success than others.”

Chergosky also said local governments are more prone to address the issue, which is what is seen playing out in La Crosse and across Wisconsin.

The La Crosse County Board and members of the city council heard an update on the Pathways Home project Monday night.

Plus, the La Crosse city council will be addressing two pieces of legislation Thursday in regards to homelessness — camping bans and charging the city council with the responsibility of banning portions of the city from camping, instead of the Board of Public Works.

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. nick

    July 10, 2024 at 5:21 am

    Solving the homeless problem. Waste of time and money

  2. Roy

    July 10, 2024 at 8:03 am

    A rather feeble, lightweight attempt by those unable to change their welfare methods and the media allies who invented this story. Local authorities, who refuse to do what is necessary to solve vagrancy because it conflicts with their left-wing ideas, try to pass the buck to the state, who didn’t create the problem. They also offer quotes from Rep. Oldenburg, that make him appear uninformed. A real hatchet job, this piece.

  3. walden

    July 10, 2024 at 11:45 am

    Sounds like Oldenburg was bush-wacked by Solem. Oldenburg’s response should have been “why would you expect the state to interfere with matters under local control?” And secondly, the City and County of La Crosse just finished pissing away $50 million of Covid funding, why didn’t they solve the homeless problem if its about money.

    The seat of our state legislature, the uber-liberal City of Madison, invented homelessness in Wisconsin; they have already made every mistake La Crosse has made and like La Crosse, are always inventing more mistakes. A stroll down the State Street mall which was thriving a decade ago is now largely a collection of struggling storefronts punctuated by filthy vacant storefronts and doorway sleepers…sound familiar?

    Wake up La Crosse.

  4. LG

    July 11, 2024 at 12:57 pm

    Yep, go find the deeper pockets at the state level. Yep, more money, that’ll fix this. And when the state fails to fix it, will more money from the federal government fix it. Absolutely not. Homelessness is a collection of poor decision-making, like drug use, creating an eviction history, failing to be responsible, feeling to seek proper treatment for mental health issues, and failure to save money for an emergency fund for unexpected job loss. No amount of tax money will fix this problem, But it will certainly cause the city and county to raise taxes for the rest of us leaving taxpayers with less money themselves, decreasing our ability to voluntarily give to help others, to give to charitable organizations less money in Government coffers for Essential services.

  5. Kevin

    July 12, 2024 at 6:15 am

    I want the state to do nothing! The city and county have tried things, all they have managed to do is push the problem around from green space to green space! They will not solve the problem, they cannot. The problem must be solved by the folks that are homeless or un-sheltered or ‘camping’. For gosh sakes, the city and county call it camping, how can you solve a problem when you can’t even call it what it is. It is not camping, it is occupying, residing, squatting etc….but it certainly is not ‘camping’.

    Once again, if the dumbasses in city & county government are going to allow the ‘unsheltered’ to reside in our parks and green spaces then provide them facilities; dumpsters for garbage, chemical toilets, water for clean-up and drinking. Limit the number of spaces, disperse them to different places so they are not congested, AND this is not negotiable, and it will cost money, people to police the areas, forcing the ‘campers’ to clean up after themselves or face eviction. ‘Those that don’t work, don’t eat’…..

    Do your jobs, compassion is great, door matting is stupid! Mayor Reynolds, Slow Poke Solem, the rest of the compassionate left, it isn’t your property, it isn’t your money, it is the citizens of the county and cities money, be good stewards with it!

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