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The twice-a-year Point in Time homeless count of 25 people living outside overnight in La Crosse this week was seven more than a year ago, but that only steels the resolve of advocates in their quest to end homelessness.

“We’re trending in a direction we do not want to see, obviously,” said Kim Cable, housing and community services director at Couleecap Inc., which conducts the counts in January and July. “On any day, there can be different numbers.”

The tallies, part of national Point in Time counts at the same time, pivot on the number of people using shelters, Cable said Friday, adding, “When it is super-cold, it drives people in, but when it is more temperate like Thursday, more stay outside.”

The count began at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, when five teams of volunteers fanned out through La Crosse and Onalaska in search of those whose only shelter was outside. The temperature was in the 20s, and snow was falling, Cable said.

At the time, the La Crosse Warming Center was full, but six beds remained vacant at The Salvation Army, she said.

Twelve people were counted in downtown parking ramps or other outdoor locations, 11 were in what is called Tent City north of Riverside Park and two were behind stores, Cable said.

“Our message to the community is that we could have housed everybody,” she said.

One advantage of the counts is that, even among individuals who don’t want to use shelters, they are identified and can be connected with agencies to pinpoint their needs and, perhaps, obtain housing, she said.

Some people who live outdoors hesitate to go to a shelter because of mental health issues that result in anxiety in such places, Cable said.

“On the other side, we don’t want to see people dying on La Crosse streets,” she said.

The Salvation Army recently lifted its policy of zero tolerance for people who have consumed alcohol and replaced it with a “harm reduction” rule under which someone who is not impaired and presents no danger can stay there. The Warming Shelter always has allowed overnight residents, even if they had been drinking.

“With both under a harm reduction policy, more people can stay,” she said.

The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness, which was formed last year and was able to house more than 15 veterans before its Christmas deadline, will continue to attack the problem, Cable said.

The collaborative has helped establish a priority list to help meet the needs of homeless individuals and families.

“The housing priority list targets people with barriers,” she said. “When we know people, we can develop relationships with them and get people connected to services.”

An optimistic indicator is that initial entries on the list had been homeless for four or five years, while those seeking shelter more recently have been homeless for two years, Cable said.

“Two years is still a long time, but we are chipping away at chronic homelessness,” she said. “As a community, we are making an impact.”

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Reporter

Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(10) comments

LaCrosseLady

You have different types of homeless and you can't treat them a like. Those with mental issues often refuse to acknowledge they have a problem. They also do not want to be lumped with those on drugs. I don't really think they want housing in a residential area. They would rather be downtown where they can walk to anywhere they need go. They don't want to feel trapped and most modern neighborhoods are more for people that can drive. They would do better in a private dorm with a room big enough for a bed, dresser, small closet, and a small tv. You could have a communal lunch area and bathrooms. Otherwise like assisted living where welfare checks are done regularly, a nurse is available, and if they are not a danger to others - don't force them to take medications. Help to get them IDs, Medicare, and other assistance. Accept that they are sometimes not going to get along with each other. It's part of something they can't help - so don't force them. Expect them to horde because when you keep loosing everything you don't let anything go - so smaller bedrooms are best. A garden to grow food and with flowers trees so they can they have a peaceful place.
This is not for those needing to be institutionalize - it's for those not that bad but unable to hold a regular job.

Clarification

Thanks LCLady for you kindness. There, but for the grace of God most of us are not homeless.

Get real

sounds like you are too close to this issue to be objective and reasonable. let's keep trying to do good work and move on.

metalzombie

The point in time count is a good start but always comes out a bit low. People living in vehicles and squatters are hard to find, as are folks living (with permission) in garages and basements - and there's a few people who don't want to be found. The sad part is that there is money for supportive housing, but nobody wants it in their neighborhood. It's more fun to gentrify and increase the tax base than to ensure that marginalized groups in our community can access the basic necessities of life.

LaCrosseLady

I think in the camps-you could actually just ask the people living there how many are in the camp right now. They know - they look out for each other because it's all the have. Plus they like to pick out of the way places.

Yes - Matthew 25 - I'm happy to say the church I attend has been a great help. They have helped my sister and I buy propane heaters for many of the homeless in the tent city. They have also contributed coats and boots. You would think Goodwill or the Salvation Army would help with more with that - but they don't. IF they can make it to Goodwill they can get one piece of clothing every few weeks. Many of them have to walk everywhere they go - then they constantly worry someone will steal what little they do have. Would it really kill those 2 Christian organizations to pack up some basics, and visit the homeless areas?

It's been a horrible winter this year for the homeless. The wetness of it. It's been impossible to keep their clothes or tents dry. The wet heavy snows have collapsed many tents. It's really a miserable way to exist.

Get real

for the record, the count is federally mandated and it is done at 330am to avoid the typical drunk bar crowd so you can differentiate between passed out idiots and actual homeless people... also it helps to ensure greatest accuracy because counting where someone sleeps is dependable and they will more than likely be there at that time. I bet it would be more rude to lose federal funding that helps the homeless than it would to count them twice a year.

elocs

They counted 25 homeless people living outside at 3:30 a.m. in January. This puts the lie to the notion that people come here to be homeless since it is so cushy because who wants to be living on the streets and sleeping in the cold of a Wisconsin winter? But 25 is not a lot of homeless people here compared to the number of churches in this area because I seem to remember reading something of Jesus saying that his followers should care for the poor and homeless and hungry because in doing so they are doing it unto Him. So if a church were to adopt just a single homeless person it could make a big difference but I suppose there are technicalities about that which Jesus just didn't understand.

Yes, good old CCAP where if you make a mistake you get branded and it follows you forever. Get even just arrested (we all know the police do not arrest innocent people) much less convicted and serve time even as a young person and you never will "pay your debt to society" as long as CCAP is available for you to be judged and found wanting by whoever looks up your name. Evicted? Yep, CCAP can show that but it doesn't tell the story behind the eviction. Certainly some are deadbeats or vandals but for others there is a sad story behind that eviction yet they still get to wear the big "E" on their CCAP record.
Yes, it is a tool, but the judgmental and self-righteous love CCAP. But it doesn't help the homeless who may sincerely be trying to overcome their past.

Now I can remember from a few years ago that the Salvation Army would have people get out of the building after breakfast and before lunch, except inclement weather, so the building could be cleaned and to try and prevent the people there from just becoming potted plants--getting the outside and involved in doing something but it probably just moved them to the Library or the nearby park.
But there are homeless with mental health issues, including veterans, (does anybody really believe that somebody chooses to be mentally ill?) and they can often have issues with dealing with or being around people

But nobody who has ever had to spend a night outside or on the streets can truly appreciate what it means to be able to sleep behind your own locked door and the peace of mind it gives you where you know you won't be hurt, harmed, or harassed...or awoken to be counted at 3:30 a.m.

kingman10

yes Lacrosse Lady I agree with everything you wrote. Seems every city in this country is dealing with the same problems. Wish I had a solution or even part of a solution. It will take a monumental effort to help solve this problem of homelessness in a just way, that is if this country really wants to put forth the effort.

LaCrosseLady

Last time I checked one of the people in tent city was just released from the hospital for pneumonia and exposure. They still have pneumonia though. They were given a Rx for antibiotics and released with no where warm to go. Another person has a seriously infected tooth abscess and needs a dentist. How can you help them without knowing them?

LaCrosseLady

My sister and I regularly take food, blankets, winter boots, batteries,.... to the homeless in tent city. They are there for many reasons. They do not want to be in the Salvation Army shelter because they get kicked out during the day is one. They would rather have a place to stay all the time - even if it's a tent-then wander the streets in the cold especially if they don't have a car or other transportation. They also can only stay at the shelter for a few months-then they will be right back living in a tent. They are chronically unemployed because it's very hard to keep a job when you have health (mental or physical) issues, are too old, have an arrest on CCAP, or where evicted which also shows up on CCAP. You need to address the link between homeless and mental health issues first. Coulee Cap counts them at 3AM in the morning (which is incredibly rude to the people in tent city) but you never EVER talk to them or work to build trust with them by helping them. We dump people on the streets who have marginal mental issues (depression, paranoia, bi polar, ...) that are not a danger to themselves or others, but have a hard time coping with keeping a job. Employers aren't going to hire people who are "different" even if they do good work if there is something wrong with them. It's easier to let it be someone else's problem and turn our back on them.

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