Francis House project aims to keep children and families out of shelters

Project placed first family three weeks ago

A new project by local real-estate agents is looking to provide housing for young children and their families.

The project is called Francis Homes, and its goal is to make sure children are raised in a home, rather than a shelter.

Housing experts in La Crosse estimate nearly 200 children are without a home in the city.
While the project launched earlier than expected, Francis Homes placed its first family in a home about three weeks ago.

Tom Bouchard and his family of five were the first to receive a home under the project. He has a job at Western Technical College, but unfortunate financial events made living arrangements a bit difficult.

“When we had nowhere else to turn, no other family we could stay with, we lived in the Salvation Army for a while,” said Bouchard. “From there we were staying over at a motel on the south side of La Crosse.”

After running out of options for long-term housing, the Salvation Army reached out to Rick Staff, president and general counsel of Gerrard-Hoeschler Realty.

“Both YWCA and the Salvation Army called us, and they said, ‘Rick, we’ve got a problem. There’s a great family, they’ve timed out of the shelters,'” said Staff. “‘They’re in a motel room paying more than they should. Can you do anything to help?'”

Staff was already working on the project to provide housing for children and families. While working with their agents, they placed the Bouchards in a home for a discounted price.

“We weren’t quite ready for the Bouchards,” said Staff. “But when we got the call, we’re going to take care of them, and within a week, we found them the home.”

Their reaction to the home was unforgettable.

“They apologized as we showed them the house because the 3-year-old was running around like crazy because he’s never had a chance to run around,” said Staff.

“Not only can he run, but he knows he has his own bedroom,” said Bouchard. “We got the bed set up and everything for him, and he slept in his own room for the first time last night.”

While it may not be a permanent solution, Staff and the Bouchards said having shelter for their children is what’s most important.

“Kids are resilient, but you need to give them an opportunity,” said Staff. “You just can’t leave them in shelters and expect them to have a fair shot at life.”

“We just needed that chance to prove ourselves, and the fact that Rick is willing to do a program like this to give people that opportunity, we’re just grateful,” said Bouchard.
This is just one part of their project to end homelessness in the region.

In addition to the Francis House project, Staff and his wife Nancy Gerrard have been working on projects like the La Crosse Warming Center, as well as the new daytime warming center.

Gerrard-Hoeschler Realty maintains a nonprofit organization called Shelter Development that works on these projects. They urge anyone who may be interested in helping to call their office for more information.