Homeless need outweighs community programs ability to help

Published On: Dec 07 2012 05:49:37 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 07 2012 06:59:38 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

Just a few days ago a homeless La Crosse man was found dead a block away from the Warming Center in La Crosse.

Law enforcement says he had a history of alcoholism and was in and out of jail multiple times.

His death is raising the question, what help is out there in our community for the homeless to change their life cycle?

Law enforcement says there many people with a life story just like 53-year-old Mark Fuchsteiner, who died on Tuesday from a combination of hypothermia and alcohol.

Fuchsteiner was a frequent inmate at the La Crosse County Jail and had just been released about a day before he was found dead.

There are many struggling with homelessness and addictions in the community, but there are simply few options for them get back on their feet.

Sgt. Steve Anderson, at the La Crosse County Jail, says some of the inmates are familiar faces.

"We do have a small population that is in and out a lot and are homeless. They have no place to go. Unfortunately, their standard of living is higher in the jail than it is on the street," said Anderson.

Of the 5,780 bookings this year, 158 of them are homeless.    

Many of them have similar stories to Fuchsteiner.

"I could probably give you half a dozen or a dozen names that would fit the same scenario," said Anderson.

Like Fuchsteiner, some just don't seem to want to leave, some actually request to stay in jail.

But whether someone is struggling with addictions or not, the Salvation Army says there's simply a lack of options for the homeless to get the help they need to break the life cycle.

"The need is huge in this community. That would be  a tremendous asset it we could refer people to transitional housing so they could take a next step out of the shelter," said Julie Nelson with the Salvation Army.

There are some groups like Couleecap that help homeless individuals find housing, learn life skills and find employment.  Couleecap staff say they help about 90 households, but with four counties to cover, the need is simply too great to be able to help everyone.

So the problem continues for many in our community, despite the effort to solve it.

"It's a cycle we've been trying for years to figure out, how to break that cycle. I think we're making some progress. We have many more programs than we used to have. We're working with them a lot more when we've got them in jail. We're trying to use that time constructively," said Anderson.

Anderson says he's been working at the jail for 30 years and he is now seeing some people booked into the jail who are the second and third generations of some of the people who were there when he started.

The YWCA also provides transitional programs for homeless women in the La Crosse community.

YWCA staff say there are always more applications for their programs than they have the capacity to help.