City of La Crosse releases emergency overnight shelter plans for homeless population

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — The City of La Crosse released the names of several city buildings that could be used for emergency overnight shelter for the homeless population.

One of those buildings is the Harry J. Olson senior center– but the plan is not popular with the group already in the building.

Last year, the city rented the Econolodge to house about 100 members of the unsheltered population. This year, the city is looking into emergency shelter options to hold around 30 people each. Those would be scattered across the city.

Days and nights are growing colder, and the search for nighttime shelter for La Crosse’s homeless population continues. One option for this population is Catholic Charities’ warming center. But when that, and the Salvation Army, fill up, many are left without a place to go during bitter winter nights.

“As soon as he makes the declaration, we can we are ready to move on the emergency overflow plan– it can go into place right away,” said Brian Sampson, homeless coordinator for the city of La Crosse.

This year, if local shelters fill up, a committee decided that Mayor Mitch Reynolds can make an emergency declaration to allow city buildings to be used as a temporary overnight shelter.

That would then go to the city council, who would revise the plan.

“We’re taking every step to ensure that both people who are utilizing the overflow shelter and the surrounding community and surrounding neighbors are safe as possible,” Sampson said.

First on the list is the South Side Neighborhood Center. Second up is the Harry J. Olson senior center.

“It is a vibrant happening joint for old people,” said Erin Goggin, the center’s executive director. “We are open every day and we have events and programs and classes going on every day. So I don’t know what the seniors would be supposed to do.”

But homeless coordinator Brian Sampson told News 8 Now that the building would only be used at night, but it will be available for its original use during the day.

Goggin does not think the center is the right fit.

“There are no showers here, there are two bathrooms that aren’t basically up to code,” Goggin said. “Any upkeep and anything that’s been done to the building, our members have done.”

Sampson says the list of potential locations is not long and it is still subject to change.

“It could change on his declaration, it could change by the city council—they really are the governing body. they can make amendments to it as they see fit,” Sampson said.

The beds are not yet full at warming centers in town yet, but the city told News 8 Now that it relies on Catholic Charities to know when to make that declaration.

Those who seek overnight shelter will start at the warming center each night, and if the emergency is declared, will be assisted to go to those different locations.