La Crosse police: Fewer homeless people downtown

La Crosse police said they’ve noticed a big difference in the city’s homeless population this summer compared to last.

The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness is in the final week of its 100-day sprint addressing chronic homelessness, attempting to secure housing for 20 people.

Combining those efforts with the recent closing of Tent City, La Crosse police officers said they’ve noticed signs of progress.

“I know a lot of the people personally,” downtown Neighborhood Resource Officer Alex Burg said. He works with the city’s homeless population every day.

“So I know their life stories and what they look like a year ago compared to what they look like now, and they look a lot healthier, happier,” he said.

Many of La Crosse’s homeless people used to live in what was called Tent City.

“A lot of people voiced to me concern that all those same people would end up in parking ramps, parks, in business doorways,” Burg said. “However, the result I’m seeing is almost completely opposite of that.”

After the city shut down the encampment in June, Burg said he’s seen a significant change downtown.

“There are still homeless people, but the problems are minute in comparison to what they were last summer,” he said.

Burg also attributed that change to this year’s two 100-day sprints, the first targeting homeless veterans and the current one addressing chronic homelessness.

“It’s really pushing us, I will say, way beyond what we were doing in the veterans’ initiative,” said Kim Cable, Couleecap housing and community services director.

Cable said the chronically homeless can be a difficult group to house. Many have poor rental histories and/or credit scores, and some have criminal backgrounds, resulting in rejections from landlords.

“That’s for sure disappointing,” she said.

The goal is to house 20 people. As of Tuesday, the group was at 16.

“I think we’ve demonstrated it’s possible,” Cable said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

Success stories can serve as motivation.

“It’s rewarding for me because they’ve literally gotten over the hump,” Burg said.

Cable estimates La Crosse’s chronically homeless population to be about 40 to 50 people.

Twice a year, Couleecap does a “point in time” count to get an estimate. The next count is this week, and Cable estimates the number will be much lower than it was last summer.

The 100-day sprint addressing chronic homelessness ends Monday.

The next targeted homeless population will be determined after that.