La Crosse leaders hope to find long-term solutions for homeless people after EconoLodge

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) —  It’s been a little more than a month since homeless individuals living in La Crosse  moved into the EconoLodge on the city’s North Side, and leaders hope it can be an opportunity to find long-term solutions.

The city contracted with the motel to give homeless individuals a warm place to stay this winter, and people who were living in Houska Park moved to the EconoLodge Nov. 15. There are 100 people living there now.

Kevin Stuhr said the EconoLodge is giving him a chance to call someplace home.

“Home is what you make it,” said Stuhr, who spends much of his time cleaning the motel.

“When he came in here, he immediately started caring for people here,” said Julie McDermid, executive director of Karuna Housing, which is overseeing the motel. “He cleans, that’s what he likes to do to keep busy and feel good about himself.”

The motel also serves as a shelter in the unforgiving winter.

“I spent a couple winters out there. It’s been pretty cold, pretty miserable. This is quite the blessing,” Stuhr said.

And it gives his fellow guests a chance to breathe.

“It’s stabilized and given people you know that it’s a set place to go. So they know every night where they can lay their head down. They know where they can be during the day,” said Brian Sampson, the city’s new homeless services coordinator.

Having housing is also helping the guests look into options.

“It’s hard to be here, but also, they’ve lived really hard lives,” McDermid said. “A lot of the folks here are here because they’ve experienced some kind of trauma in their life.”

The EconoLodge offers medical services, therapy and support to help these people get into more permanent housing. The city is working to explore more solutions going forward.

“This was always a temporary option. We’re going to continue to work as a city, as a community, with all the community partners. What’s the best plan? What’s the best short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions?” Sampson said.

When the homeless population lived at Cameron Park this year, there were 152 calls for service there over the span of two months. Recently, News 8 Now did a public records request for calls for service at the EconoLodge between Nov. 17 and Dec. 9. During that time, there were 80 calls for service.

Although there has been a police presence at the EconoLodge, none of the issues has been major, Sampson said.

The setup at the EconoLodge is providing housing only to homeless individuals. That contract runs through March 31.

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