City of La Crosse moves homeless individuals from Houska Park to motel for winter

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — As cold weather approached, many people were concerned about how the homeless population in La Crosse would survive the winter.

Although the city had designated Houska Park to accommodate homeless people during the summer, city officials decided they needed to find shelter during the frigid winter.

“It was very clear — made very clear — that we needed to have a place for these individuals to spend inside for the winter,” said Jay Odegaard, who directs the city’s Parks, Recreation, Forestry, City Buildings and Grounds Department.

On Monday night, the city’s Common Council approved allocating up to $700,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, to rent a hotel for homeless people through the winter.

“The intention of the ARPA funding is to utilize those dollars for something we can look back on 10 years from now and say yeah, that was the improvement we were able to make,” Odegaard said.

Those living in Houska Park were moved into the Econo Lodge at 1906 Rose St. Karuna Housing, a nonprofit working with the city, is providing 24/7 services to the homeless individuals as they arrive.

Karuna founder Julia McDermid said, “I’m really amazed, and that’s really about the staff and volunteers that were involved as well as all of our clients.”

Many people are grateful to be out of the freezing temperatures, just in time for winter.

Mary Beyer, who moved from Houska to the Econo Lodge, said, “I stayed every night in a tent with no electricity at all, ever, and I was very cold — very, very cold.”

However, many acknowledge that the cost of sheltering people at the Econo Lodge is an expensive, short-term solution.

“This situation is not going to be sustainable,” McDermid said. “It’s going to be extremely costly to put people into shelter and serve them that way.”

The city is working on steps to take following the end of the contract with Econo Lodge in March. The long-term goal is to provide a path to permanent housing solutions for many of the residents come April.

“It’s not just a matter of providing these individuals with a hotel room,” Odegaard said. “It’s also providing them with the services that will hopefully keep them moving along the path of becoming housing ready.”

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