La Crosse parks board approves Houska Park as official temporary location for homeless population

La Crosse parks leaders designate Houska Park as official campground in La Crosse; official dates remain in works

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The La Crosse Parks Board of Commissioners approved Houska Park as an official location for the homeless in the community Thursday night. Houska Park was used for the homeless as just a temporary location over the summer to get them out of Cameron Park.

The city made gave the park an official title of a campground so it can serve as a temporary location for another season.

“We need to address this April 1,” said Jay Odegaard, director of La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry.

This problem generates a lot of debate, but one Odegaard said won’t disappear turning a blind eye.

“We need to have a location where these individuals can go,” Odegaard said.

The parks board of commissioners met Thursday night to hear Odegaard’s proposal. Last summer, Odegaard and other city leaders chose Houska Park to serve as a temporary location for these people to stay. It brought people without homes away from La Crosse’s busy downtown district with a lack of space and safety concerns for other people.

Under this official designation, the parks department will temporarily move the dog park. The city used an outside security firm to patrol the park and Odegaard said that would continue. Portable restrooms and wash stations to keep the park clean will exist just like the summer.

“We don’t have that year-round, which is what forced us to go to the Econo Lodge last year,” Odegaard said.

The Econo lodge currently houses members of the homeless population with money the city allocated. However, those dollars will run out in April. While the city seeks other avenues, Odegaard says this is their best option while they explore a permanent location.

“Not having a place by April 1, will have a significantly negative impact to the city.

“Walking away from it isn’t going to make the problem go away,” Odegaard said.

Odegaard said the city is looking at another property that could serve as a more permanent location for the homeless population. He plans to meet with city leaders next week to discuss that location.

The city spent $700,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to rent the Econo Lodge for five months. Odegaard said the city can’t afford to continue to rent that space.

City leaders still need to decide dates on when the park would become an official campground for this next season.

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