Homeless in the winter: City officials say La Crosse’s Mayor may issue an emergency decree

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — The clock is ticking for unsheltered people in Houska Park. The campground is set to close in 11 days, but there are still many tents in the park and some unsheltered people say they don’t know where they will go.

The leaves changing color serves as a reminder of what’s to come for people who live outside.

On October 31, Houska Park will shut down, leaving some campers with uncertainties about where they will go.

“I don’t know yet,” said Houska Park camper Dominick Delo.

According to the city of La Crosse, everyone at Houska Park was notified the campground will shut down 60 days ago. They will be notified again 48 hours prior to the shutdown. As of right now, there are no hotel accommodations planned.

Some volunteers are helping campers in any way they can before the deadline.

“Today is laundry day so I am going to be taking them to do their laundry,” said volunteer Le Anne Martinez.

Martinez is a woman of lived experience.

“These people are my family, I’ve cried the same tears. I truly understand where all these people are coming from,” said Martinez. “This shouldn’t be happening. There should be affordable housing.”

The city’s homeless service coordinator Brian Sampson says it’s not that simple.

“This issue didn’t just pop up overnight. It’s been years in the making and it’s unrealistic to expect this crisis to go away in a short period of time,” said Sampson.

Sampson says the city has been working with multiple warming shelters including the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities.

“Provide people with those existing resources, not just kick them out to nowhere,” said Sampson.

If warming shelters reach capacity, Sampson says “the Mayor is prepared to make an emergency decree that would list certain buildings for overflow shelter that the city can provide.”

Sampson says city officials are still in the process of choosing buildings for use as emergency overflow warming shelters. If Mayor Mitch Reynolds makes an emergency decree, it will have to be approved by the city council.

Delo says he’s thankful.

“I just wanna say thank you to the people that do help. Because it makes a big difference in the world,” said Delo.

Delo says he’s doing his best to stay positive as the weather gets colder.

“You just got to be patient and keep trying and do your best every day,” said Delo.