Community reacts to ‘Tent Ministry’ closure

Green space for homeless to close Tuesday.

A space for La Crosse’s homeless is closing Tuesday.

Since last year, the Wesley United Methodist Church has allowed the homeless and unsheltered to sleep on the green space surrounding the church.

Starting Tuesday, however, the shelter will close, and volunteers and people who call this their home are devastated.

For the last several weeks, James, who asked News 8 not to use his full name, has had to call the backyard of Wesley United Methodist Church his bedroom.

“I literally sleep on a bench with a tarp underneath me, a blanket on top of me, and a pillow on my head,” he said.

Since last year, the church has allowed a handful of people to stay in the backyard.

“People don’t feel safe in many of the places that are available to them in the city, and so the point of us doing this is to help provide a safe space for people to be,” said Irene TenEyck, coordinator for Sacred Grounds.

Starting Tuesday, however the place will be no more.

“We are no longer able to keep people safe outside, when they are sleeping here overnight,” TenEyck said.

The Church said overcrowding and insurance problems, as well as incidents in the last few weeks are the factors leading to the closure.

Organizers and those who use the space are devastated.

“In reality, it’s more sadness, more futility,” James said. “It seems like everything you do, you’re just kind of stuck in the quagmire of homeless.”

“These people are very well known to us. They are our brothers and sisters. They are our friends. We know them by name,” TenEyck said. “As the coordinator, and as the person who started this project and this ministry, it’s hard for me to do the same thing that everybody else is doing and saying, you need to go someplace else. It’s painful.

While they remain optimistic about the future, the closure has left everyone with questions.

“I don’t know what that’s going to be, but we will keep moving on and moving forward with whatever we can do,” TenEyck said.

Last year, the city had asked the church to remove the homeless from the space. Since then, the church was working on bringing the space up to code to allow those to continue to use facility.

The church said, however, the overcrowding and the insurance issues in the last few weeks were becoming just too big of an issue.