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Homeless allowed to gather in Houska Park while long-term solutions are developed

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 5:39 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - City officials in La Crosse have set up a temporary home for people who don’t have a place to call their own.

Houska Park is officially a place where the homeless can gather without fear or retaliation from authority.

“We’re not providing a shelter, what we’re doing is just allowing our park to be used as a place where people can go without feeling like they’re being run out of it,” La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds explained.

It’s not a permanent solution to the issue of homelessness in the community, but Reynolds says it was the only feasible option the City could agree on.

“There was a number of different options that we had looked at and none of them really worked out,” Reynolds detailed. “It was not the first option in any kind of way...it really was the last option on the list.”

La Crosse Parks & Rec Director Jay Odegaard says dedicated staff are trying to maintain a safe environment at Houska Park.

He adds people at the park have been respecting the arrangement.

“People are really responding well in my opinion as opposed to always looking over their shoulder, wondering if they were going to get ushered away to another spot,” Odegaard said.

La Crosse’s homeless population was normally gathering in Cameron Park, but Odegaard says Houska provides more space and also has less contention from surrounding neighbors.

“Obviously we have the Farmer’s Market in Cameron Park and multiple businesses right there,” Odegaard said. “It really goes back to the size, Cameron Park didn’t even have the logistical option to supply structural resources like porta-potties and wash stations.”

Reynolds stressed the set-up at Houska Park is temporary, but doesn’t have a set timeframe for when people will have to leave.

He says the City is putting as many resources as possible towards addressing the continuing issue of homelessness.

“This is a process that you can’t just say we fixed homelessness, this will be constant and ongoing, the City needs to invest in making sure that we find solutions,” Reynolds expressed.

Reynolds adds the City is in the process of hiring a Homeless Coordinator to take the reins on assisting the unsheltered in the community.

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