Addiction and homelessness not a choice, La Crosse leaders say

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Addiction is more than a choice, according to leaders at the Coulee Recovery Center.

La Crosse is working to solve homelessness in the city, but it’s a complicated issue. There are a variety of resources in La Crosse to help people who are suffering from addiction. However, many people struggle to ask for help.

City leaders say the community has to overcome the stigma before they can solve this problem.

Addiction and homelessness are not unique to La Crosse.

“The solution can’t be to look at the entire population as the same,” said Cheryl Hancock of Coulee Recovery Center.

La Crosse addiction experts say people who suffer from addiction go wherever they feel they belong.

“For them, that’s their family to be around and to be supported,” Hancock said.

Addiction and untreated mental health issues drive people into deep holes they cannot climb out of alone, she said.

“One of the gentlemen we service here is a veteran and has PTSD. That’s what drove his substance use. He was self-medicating,” Hancock said.

The people who live in La Crosse’s Houska Park have similar stories.

“There’s really multiple different issues when it comes to a population that sometimes just gets lumped into one group,” she said.

La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds wants to hire a homeless coordinator who can focus on the deep-rooted issues that create this scene.

“We can’t ignore them and we can’t pretend that they don’t exist. We can’t shelter necessarily our children from seeing them. They have to understand that there are people in our society who have needs that are greater than our own,” Reynolds said.

Often these people are harshly judged for their lifestyle. Hancock says no one living in Houska Park wants to be there. She’s heard their stories. This is just one of them.

“Her parents thought she was out partying and that she was out getting high and having a good old time. She would sit in a room and use by herself, experience that, and then within half an hour, 45 minutes, she would have to be figuring out, ‘Where am I going to get more money to buy again?’ She knew that within hours she was going to be experiencing withdrawals. So many times, it’s that stigma. People just think they’re out partying, it’s a lonely life,” said Hancock.

Hancock says solutions are born out of understanding and recognizing it appears they made a choice, the experts will tell you they really are trapped.

Reynolds says this population is worth investing in. Having these people in one location helps city leaders find them so they can get more resources for them.

And as far as the scope of drug overdose deaths in La Crosse, just last year there were 40, nearly doubling the previous year.