Answer

We all feel for unsheltered individuals, particularly during the coldest of winter days. Individuals who are homeless, particularly in Cameron Park, became more visible during the pandemic because the services that assist them had to reduce the number of people they could serve or, in the case of services used during the day, closed. 

Homelessness comes in a variety of forms, such as individuals who are sleeping on other's couches or in vehicles, families living with other families, people receiving vouchers for housing, those living in shelters, or those who choose to be unsheltered.

Lack of housing crosses city boundaries. It is a shared concern. La Crosse County financially contributes to the solution and the City of La Crosse's Planning Department assists with finding grants for the nonprofits who help those in need. The result is the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness (more info here >>). This innovative group of nonprofits successfully ended Veteran Homelessness in 2016. By working collaboratively, Catholic Charities, Couleecap, Independent Living Resources, and the Salvation Army created rapid housing solutions and improved results. They continue to meet to case-manage individuals regardless of which nonprofit they walk in the door of each night. This interweaving of programs was working well -- providing shelter and healthcare, and finding stable housing. Then the pandemic hit.

The Collaborative lost its leader. 

The City of La Crosse is also about to experience a change in its point person for this initiative.

I believe the City must fill the position on our staff that assists community nonprofits in homelessness. This person will be a partner in solving homelessness.

MY OPPONENT has discussed a "Housing First" model that would be funded by the City and pulling funding from the nonprofits for the City to administer.

I am opposed to this idea because:

  1. Homelessness crosses boundaries. Our nonprofits do this best.
  2. Our nonprofits can best leverage federal, state, local and individual charitable contributions, not the City.
  3. Our nonprofits must pick the ways to address homelessness. They are the experts. 
  4. Many people agree that some homeless refuse housing. This hurts our compassionate hearts to hear, but it is reality.

THE CITY'S ROLE: Finding the right person for your open position key. They must uplift the work of the nonprofits and the County to ensure a shared solution, across municipalities, solves homelessness post-pandemic. They search for gaps and work to financially fill the holes. Often, these funds require a separate organization to which they contribute the funds.

Our nonprofits have the knowledge and are better positioned financially to receive federal, state, and local donations to resolve homelessness. They also know which housing model will align with remaining gaps in service - whether it is the Housing First, Chelsea Hub, hiring a landlord coordinator, or another solution. 

The innovation and reputation of this Collaboration should not go without notice. They are seen as leaders in the state. This positioned them to recently receive the second-highest grant in the state, a $1.4 million federal grant, to the YWCA to create a runaway and homeless shelter for youth. The day resource center will serve as a one-stop place for all ages to receive services. Nonprofit partners with the YWCA in the venture include Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge, Catholic Charities, the CIA Siab Inc. Hmong organization, Couleecap, the Family & Children’s Center, Independent Living Resources, The Salvation Army of La Crosse County, and The Center: 7Rivers LGBTQ Connection. (more info here >>)

The solution to homelessness is complicated and must be customized for each individual. The work is intense and emotionally draining. Upon assessment, an individual's mental health, addictions, ability to take care of housing, and much more require tailored solutions that our nonprofits are equipped to handle and lead.

The role of the mayor is to ensure the most knowledgeable, servant-leading individual is hired in this position for the City. That individual can partner in finding the funding that allows these collaborative and innovative nonprofits that are working to end homelessness can replicate the success they had with Veteran homelessness.