Every night, hundreds of people in La Crosse find themselves without a home to sleep in. They are individuals and families, adults and kids. There are shelters to go to, but that is only a temporary solution.
You might be surprised to hear that there are about 1,200 people in our small community that are homeless. For many,. the road to getting off the street runs through transitional housing. There is a huge need for it in the city but nowhere near enough housing.
Couleecap in La Crosse has 29 unit of transitional housing to help people get off the street, and it's just not enough. "We turn away close to 800 people a year for that service," says Couleecap's Kim Cable, "it takes every little bit to make these programs work." The YWCA has just six apartments and focus on helping single moms. "I think it's big, especially for the population that we serve," says Mary Jacobson from the YWCA, "We have two and three bedroom units and each one has a waiting list of about 20 people."
Those numbers are rising, not falling. Couleecap says its fastest growing population is homeless families. What transitional housing tries to do is not only give them a roof over their heads, but also give them tools to stay off the street. "We work a lot on household budgeting," says Cable, "we help them learn how to plan for their families, get along with landlords and other tenants and just build that financial capacity." "A program like this can help break that cycle," says Jacobson, "to move them from poverty into being a productive member of society and being able to sustain themselves."
Even with hundreds of people on the waiting list, organizations have a hard time expanding for one simple reason, "Dollars," says Jacobson, "it's always going to be dollars." Cable agrees, "A huge roadblock is funding for those services," she says, "we're at risk for having even our existing programs cut this year, that's the word from the federal government and we're worried about that."
The money problem is something the groups will continue to deal with because the homeless problem isn't going anywhere. "As we grow," says Jacobson, "that problem area will always be there and I think we need to figure out smarter ways, not work harder, work smarter in addressing the needs of the population."
Last year only 2% of people who left the program ended up going back into shelters. That low number is important because funding is tied to performance.
November is National Hunger and Homeless Awareness month. On any given night in the U.S. up to two million people are homeless.