Local organizations work to tackle growing poverty rate

Report: One in six lives in poverty in La Crosse County

While poverty in La Crosse County may be on the rise, there are many different organizations working together in our community to reverse that trend.

About one in six people in La Crosse County lives in poverty, according to a study from the Institute of Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin.

The study used a number of factors such as earnings, tax credits and food stamps to determine the poverty rate.

There is a long list of organizations in the county focused on decreasing that number and they say working together is the best way.

Independent Living Resources offers help and support for people with disabilities in 13 counties.

“Ten years ago we probably would have served two homeless people a year, this year we’re probably going to serve about 140,” said Kathie Knoble-Iverson, executive director of ILR. “They come to us around a disability issue, but probably 95 percent of the people we serve live in extreme poverty.”

ILR has what it calls ‘homeless coordinators,’ employees walking the streets to find people in need of help.

“We help folks find the resources they need to solve whatever problem they have, and we do that in collaboration with probably 25 other agencies in town,” Knoble-Iverson said.

Catholic Charities of La Crosse is also doing its best to slow down the rising poverty rate. One specific way is focusing on the source of the problem. Money. It offers those struggling a financial wellness advocate.

“Some of the first things are just establishing their needs over wants and maybe getting people to focus on the more needs then the wants,” said Kevin Burch, program coordinator at St. Lawrence Community Services.

Burch said these advocates are working with eight to 10 people a week, focusing on both long- and short-term goals.

“Where do you see yourself in two or three years, 10 years down the line? Children, for their family, even retirement. Some people in poverty, to see that and even talk about it just provides that extra boost of energy and you’re looking forward to something instead of looking back or looking at the current situation,” Burch said.

Both Burch and Knoble-Iverson said there are a large number of people living in poverty in the county, the way to fix that involves everyone.

“It’s a collaborative effort. It really takes a village,” Knoble-Iverson said.

Knoble-Iverson said the biggest issue in all 13 counties the organization serves is affordable housing, but that the problem is probably the worst in La Crosse County. She said developers need to create more affordable housing opportunities.