Homelessness among children on rise

More than 250 kids in five La Crosse County public schools are homeless

The number of kids in La Crosse County public schools who are homeless has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years.

Organizations in the county are putting their heads together to find out why and how they can help an under-served group of people.

Thursday, several dozen organizations got together to discuss how to get a large amount of teens with no place to call home off the streets. A successful idea in the Twin Cities was pitched to those in attendance, in hopes that the same success can come to La Crosse County.

Since 2003, the number of homeless kids in Wisconsin schools has increased more than 15,000 according to the Wisconsin Department of Education. In the five La Crosse County public school districts it has increased by more than 200.

The La Crosse YMCA’s Teen Center is one local organization trying to help.

“If they’re struggling with some other things they might be able to come here as a place to just focus on being a kid,” said YMCA Teen and Youth Services director Lisa Luckey.

But it’s clear, there are still many teens slipping through the cracks. The La Crosse Community Foundation is pooling all it’s resources hoping to find a way to help all of them.

“We’re really trying to look at what’s useable, what works, as well as talk to those kids who need some help,” said Heather Quackenboss, program director with the foundation.

When searching for a solution, the Community Foundation found Avenues for Homeless Youth based in the Twin Cities. A program working exclusively with teens and young adults who are homeless.

“We provide them with shelter and transitional housing and sort of all the supportive services they need to move from surviving on the streets to becoming thriving young adults,” said Deb Loon, executive director of Avenues.

Avenues has several types of programming, offering different housing options, mental health resources and case managers to those it serves.

“We understand developmentally where they’re at as, literally, teenagers, young adults, so they will get very youth-centered services,” said Loon.

The Community Foundation hopes that by hearing the ways Avenues is making a difference, organizations in La Crosse County can find a way to do the same.

“Creating something is always going to be a big and long process so if we can help kids by using some of what we have and adding some things here and some things there, we’ll see what happens, but we’ll do something that works,” said Quackenboss.

Quackenboss said it’s now going to get all those interested in working on this project together to find out what is working in the county already and what is missing. She said the key to developing this program will be talking to the kids who would use the service because if it doesn’t talk to them the program is not going to work.

Loon said a big goal is to prevent teens from being homeless long-term because adults that are homeless were most often homeless as a child.