Safe space for the unsheltered: La Crosse makes changes to Houska Park

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — After designating Houska Park as a temporary campground for La Crosse’s unsheltered population, the city is now making the park a safe space.

For the second year, Houska Park will be home to the unsheltered  population for the next six months. Individuals who want to stay in the park must register with on-site staff Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Last year, the city’s homeless population hovered around 120 people. This year, it sits at 270. 

“Our big concern this year is we’re looking at a significant increase in the number,” said Jay Odegaard, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. 

The city will add cameras, lighting and fencing to separate Houska Park from the wastewater plant. A city-hired private security firm will make nightly checks in the park.

“We will ultimately have to find that funding in the city budget,” Odegaard said. 

The safe space is another temporary solution to La Crosse’s ongoing homeless issue, he said.  

“Here, like last year, we’re looking at five months away from having to come up with another winter solution,” he said. 

Alternating between Houska Park and other temporary housing does not provide mental, physical and financial stability for the unsheltered population, Odegaard said.. 

“I don’t necessarily believe a park is ever going to be a long-term solution,” he said. 

City representatives are meeting with area nonprofits to discuss options, said Brian Sampson, the city’s homeless services coordinator.

“We are planning with other community partners about what roles are already taken in the community,” Sampson said. 

Improvements to the park are just the beginning of the city’s plan, and it will take time to find a long-term solution, he said. 

 “If there was an easy solution or simple answer or a one size fits all, it would have been done already,” Sampson said. 

It is the city’s responsibility to provide services to the unsheltered population that fit their needs, he said.

If you would like to donate supplies for the people at Houska Park, you can find a list of items and drop-off locations at

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