Federal Report: Wisconsin homelessness down by 1 percent

One advocate says the decline doesn't mean there isn't a need anymore

A new federal report shows the number of homeless people in Wisconsin is down about one-percent since last year.

Every year, local homeless advocate agencies do a one-night count of homeless people in the area. Those numbers are given to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its annual report.

One advocate said there are reasons for the decline but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need anymore.

“I moved to La Crosse because I got tired of living the way I was living,” said Vincent Grant.

Illinois native Grant moved to La Crosse in 2010 in search of a better life.

“In Illinois I was living the way I wanted to live. Drugs and this and that, sleeping anywhere I wanted to sleep, lots of cars and abandoned buildings,” said Grant.

Grant is one of thousands across the state who has experienced homelessness this year.

“There are multiple issues that keep people in homelessness” said Julie Nelson, the public relations director for Salvation Army.

However, a federal report suggests the efforts of local and state agencies actively fighting homelessness are working.

In 2013, the number of homeless people in Wisconsin was 6,104. This year, it’s down by 49 people, making it about a 1 percent decrease across the state.

“We are seeing something very similar in La Crosse. Our shelter numbers are down just a little bit,” said Nelson.

In La Crosse, the Salvation Army served 742 people between January and October of last year. During the same time this year, that number is down to 736 people, which is about a 1 percent decrease as well.

Nelson said a there is a likely reason behind the small decline.

“Now that we are turning people away the word gets out a little bit that there is no point in coming to La Crosse if we don’t have the space for them,” said Nelson.

It took Grant six months to save enough money to rent a place of his own. He is part of that 1 percent decrease across the state and wants others to know they can be part of it too.

“If you listen to people and follow the program, yeah it will happen,” said Grant.

The report also highlighted the number of homeless veterans in Wisconsin. That has declined by 10.5 percent from last year. Locally, the Veteran’s Assistance Foundation in Tomah is helping more veterans get into housing programs. Last year, 123 veterans were put into transitional housing. This year, that number is up to 175.

Overall, homelessness in Wisconsin has dropped about 4 and a half percent since 2010.

The new warming center in La Crosse is gearing up to help the homeless this winter.

It’s located on Third Street in downtown La Crosse and will be open seven days a week, including holidays.

The new space allows the center to more than double the amount of people it can handle, from about 15 people to 35.

Not only will people be able to wash their clothes and take a shower, but they’ll also be able to take part in programs offered at the facility.

“Our representative payee program is moving down here and then St. Lawrence Community Services is a program that works with people who are in some kind of a crisis and need of some basic needs,” said Mary Fitzpatrick, director of the La Crosse Warming Center.

Organizers are still looking for volunteers to help out. If you would like more information about how to help, contact the warming center’s director at 608-519-8020.