La Crosse Mayor unveils plans to address homelessness this winter

At least 100 people are homeless at Houska Park out of at least 130 citywide.

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — On Wednesday, La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds announced a multi-tiered plan for the city to try and house the homeless at a variety of locations this winter.

According to Reynolds, some aspects of the plan include: maximizing shelter space, identifying day shelters and diverting people to a variety of indoor living options, such as helping the homeless make arrangements with family or friends.

On Wednesday, Reynolds also said the city plans to contact houses of worship to see if they’re willing to take in any homeless people.

Reynolds has not ruled out issuing an emergency decree to house the homeless at a later time. He added Wednesday that he would only do this if local organizations deemed it necessary.

“To take advantage of that last resort contingency I would need to issue an emergency decree and so I will rely on them to tell me when we’re at that point,” he said.

Reynolds added that the city is still planning and “working through possibilities” about how to house the homeless, not only this upcoming winter but beyond.

As part of the current plan, Mayor Reynolds and local organizations are calling for an extension to Wisconsin’s rental assistance voucher program through next spring.

Some of the vouchers have already been extended for families receiving case management services related homelessness, according to Reynolds.

The mayor acknowledged Wednesday that the city, in conjunction with local organizations, did not reach its summertime goal of finding housing for 40 people, instead housing only 25.

He added Wednesday that this winter there is a “very high likelihood” that there will be dozens of people sleeping on the streets of La Crosse and in surrounding communities.

Reynolds said local medical centers should expect a “massive influx” of people at emergency departments because some will remain unsheltered this winter.

“This is going to cause a significant strain on our medical health system,” he said.

La Crosse Common Council President Barb Janssen has rented out two of the properties she owns to four people who were previously homeless. She said she is renting out the properties below market value.

“One house is next door to where I live, they’re my neighbors,” she said.