Artemis spoke bluntly and simply before she signed a lease Thursday for a studio apartment in La Crosse after being homeless for four to five years: “’Bout damn time.”

The 27-year-old Artemis, who asked that her last name not be shared publicly, became the 20th person to sign a lease in connection with the most recent goal of the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness — to settle in 20 chronically homeless within 100 days.

Artemis, who was raised in La Crosse and has lived in several areas of the country, had been staying on the streets and in shelters, said Tristine Bauman, who is Artemis’ case worker and arranged the apartment through the Rapid Rehousing Program tailored for homeless individuals.

Artemis has been living recently in a motel room with the assistance of Shelter Development, a nonprofit organization sponsored by Gerrard-Hoeschler Realtors in La Crosse, where she signed the lease.

She expressed gratitude that obtaining housing will provide a bit of stability in her life, adding, “I won’t have to worry about everything at once, and I will be able to move toward other things I want to do.”

Asked what her goals are, Artemis, who is transgender, said she would like to undergo sex reassignment surgery as part of her transition. She acknowledged that she had no success looking for housing during the first few years of her search, when she was doing it alone. Doors opened when she asked for help, though, she said.

“Artemis is a true picture of somebody who was not able to be a strong advocate for herself in the world but now has strong advocates,” said Bauman, who is coordinator of the Franciscan Hospitality House and has served in several other advocacy positions through Catholic Charities of the La Crosse Diocese.

Artemis’ support network now includes Kael Clemmerson, a community outreach representative for New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in downtown La Crosse, who also was at the lease signing.

The two have become friends since Artemis started coming to the church’s weekly dinners three years ago, Clemmerson said.

Artemis also has received help from Care Wisconsin, prompting Bauman to cite the expanding ties among agencies, including the homelessness collaborative. The collection of agencies and their representatives was launched last year, with one of its goals being to coordinate efforts among agencies that previously might have been working in parallel patterns.

“It’s nice to have this open relationship with other agencies,” Bauman said.

The signing of the 20th lease came during the same week when collaborative members had huddled in what they call a momentum lab to brainstorm ideas for their next target. They still are considering their next initiative, designated as 100-day sprints to pinpoint housing.

Last fall, the collaborative succeeded in obtaining housing for nearly 20 veterans in less than 100 days, and the goal of settling in 20 chronically homeless individuals or families was completed in a similar span.

Determining the next homeless population to target, and the timeline, also coincides with the collaborative’s hiring of a project manager — Julie McDermid. She has been involved in the collaborative since it began, and she took her post two weeks ago.

McDermid previously was a housing specialist at Independent Living Resources and, most recently, state coordinator of Peer Run Organizations.

A certified peer specialist, she explained, “I identify as being a person with lived experience with mental illness. The role pairs a person’s experience with training to be able to go out and share my personal experience with others to offer hope and guidance on their journey of recovery.”

That background dovetails with her work as the collaborative’s project manager, McDermid said, adding, “I may not ever have had the experience of being homeless, but I have had the experience of being limited in essential/basic life functions because of my mental illness,” she said.

There was a time she did not work, and she and her providers and supporters assumed that she never would work again, McDermid said.

“But in La Crosse, I found a wonderful community with a network of supports that enabled me to find my way to a life truly worth living,” she said. “You could scrap all of the job titles I have ever held in favor of one: advocate.”

In that role, McDermid plans to continue to press for changes in systems to allow increased support and services for people copying with mental illness, substance abuse or homelessness, she said.

“And in many, many cases, all three, because they so desperately need to be able to find their way to a life worth living themselves,” McDermid said. “I’m fortunate to now be in a position to give back to my community after all I have received and give a hand up to others out there who are struggling.”

The signing of the 20th lease came during the same week when collaborative members had huddled in what they call a momentum lab to brainstorm ideas for their next target. Their initiatives are designated as 100-day sprints to pinpoint housing needs.
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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.

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