City of La Crosse looking into winter shelter solutions for homeless

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — As the weather gets colder, the city of La Crosse is looking at ways to shelter its homeless population.

Though there are already some options for winter shelter in the city, including the Catholic Charities’ warming center, it’s not enough.

Sam Welda, who is currently living at Houska Park, has felt the blow of past winters.

“Three times frostbit,” Welda said. “Challenging. Last year, I slept down by the river. La Crosse river by Menard’s.”

And he isn’t the only one. There’s an estimated 130 people experiencing homelessness in La Crosse and not enough beds.

“We need to make a step in the direction—the status quo is not going to suffice with the population at hand,” Odegaard said.

“None of us want to live in the cold. It’s going to be a cold, bitter winter this year,” said Teresa Kocimski, who lives at Houska.

Many are living in Houska Park, where there is electricity and running water. Jay Odegaard, director of parks, recreation, forestry and facilities, said now is the time for the city to act.

“With the coming cold temperatures, we are going to have to shut that water off. You know, there is not an indoor shelter opportunity down there,” Odegaard said. “We can’t be reactionary and you know, we can’t have 100-plus people out on the street—especially when we start having colder weather.”

Odegaard said the city is looking at multiple housing options for those in need. Those options include utilizing a facility already owned by the city, renting a location or buying a new facility.

Welda believes this could be lifesaving for the population.

“How would they benefit? Oh my God, they wouldn’t freeze to death.”

An announcement on what exactly the shelter will be could come early next week, and Odegaard said they hope to be able to utilize any shelter they obtain year-round.

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