Hearts in the Park: Nurses organize effort to help the homeless

A group of Gundersen nurses are organizing an event to bring “medical aid and love” to the unsheltered community of La Crosse, including those who have been sleeping outside at Cameron Park.

Katie Cramer, a registered nurse at Gundersen, said she was inspired by a story in The La Crosse Independent that documented the plight of several people experiencing homelessness locally.

“We learned most of our shelters are only able to operate at approximately 50% capacity and have less access to essential resources,” she said. 

The Hearts in the Park event will take place Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Salvation Army parking lot, at 223 N. 8th St. in downtown La Crosse.

“Our plan is to bring medical aid and love to our unsheltered community including blood pressure checks, foot and wound care, drug and alcohol resources, housing resources, hygiene supplies, haircuts and beard trims, meals, and a curbside drop off for community members,” Cramer said.

Gundersen Health System nurses Amanda Mullally, Kayli Posvic and Katie Cramer, (left to right) who along with Holly Honish (not pictured) are hosting the Hearts in Park event Sept. 1.

Suggested donation items the day of the event include: socks, wound care supplies, hand warmers, rain ponchos, nonperishable foods, and hygiene items. To donate electronically, or to find out more information about the event, you can connect with the Hearts in the Park Facebook group at this link. 

“Before, during, and after the event we have an established cleaning crew and all volunteers, entirely made up of health care professionals, will be donned with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommended appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment),” Cramer said. 

She added that her unit at Gundersen already serves the local unsheltered population, as well as those suffering from behavioral health diagnoses and struggling with addiction. Cramer partnered with her colleague Kayli Posvic to start work on the event, and the pair have now partnered with Gundersen Global Partners, La Crosse population health, the Collaborative to End Homelessness, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, La Crosse Police Department, and Couleecap.

“After we have allocated enough resources to make the event successful, we will be taking the remainder of the funds and donating them to the housing initiative created by the Collaborative to End Homelessness,” Cramer said. “Our goal is to get every heart off the street and into a warm shelter before this winter.”

Dozens of people are currently sleeping outside in La Crosse, according to local homelessness activists, often at Cameron Park, where police have been issuing tickets to those who refuse to leave the park after it closes at night. Several of those sleeping in the park have told The La Crosse Independent that they have nowhere else to go, especially with the Salvation Army shelter on lockdown due to the pandemic.

By Eric Timmons. Email questions to lacrosseindependent@gmail.com.

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