Long-term solutions needed for La Crosse’s homeless community

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 3:58 PM CST
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - The Econo Lodge has housed the homeless in La Crosse since November, but that arrangement is nearing its end.

Karuna Housing Executive Director Julie McDermid says her organization had been developing a project which called for a building to be purchased for long-term housing.

The Econo Lodge set-up was a slight modification on the original plan, but it still had the same goal.

“We were trying to use this opportunity to sort of experiment and show that our idea for long-term, supportive housing would work,” McDermid explained. “The primary concept is to provide services on-site, so that’s what we’re attempting to do here.”

St. Clare Health Mission and Gundersen Health System are among the groups that are helping residents like Susan Moore stay safe.

“I was homeless, and I contracted COVID while I was homeless, and I was transported directly up here from the hospital,” Moore said. “They have taken very good care of me here, they make sure I eat, they make sure my medical needs are attended to.”

The City is using $700,000 of COVID relief money for the hotel rental and the on-site services, but McDermid says it’s not a sustainable method to help the homeless.

“It’s very expensive to shelter people, but it’s always less expensive, and less traumatic to the individual, to get them out to their own housing,” McDermid detailed. “That’s going to be our big push for the next few months.”

The Econo Lodge is rented out through the end of March, so those who can’t find housing by that point will have to go back out on the streets.

McDermid is imploring landlords to work with housing programs to provide places for those people to go.

“Through the COVID Relief Act and through ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding, there’s more money in our community than ever before in rental vouchers, but we need units to go with the rental vouchers,” McDermid said.

Moore is one of the people that’s on a list for housing, and hopes she can find a place to call home within the next two months.

“We’re here, help us out,” Moore added. “Provide housing, do something.”

Mayor Mitch Reynolds says City staff are working to identify safe shelter solutions for the spring once the Econo Lodge arrangement comes to an end.

In the long-term, Reynolds believes building bridge housing, adding housing vouchers, providing more mental health and addiction treatment options, and spurring additional housing development will help curb homelessness in the community.

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