County Launches Emergency Covid Homelessness Plan

La Crosse County is planning to begin providing hotel vouchers to individuals who are homeless and COVID-19 positive as a short-term solution, possibly starting next week.

The county-funded vouchers will also be available to homeless individuals who “are symptomatic, waiting for test results and are in shelter or seeking shelter.” The program would only support the individuals while they are sick and/or waiting for test results, according to an email from Jane Klekamp, Associate County Administrator. Food and other support would also be provided to those who receive the vouchers.

Details of the plan remain to be hammered out, including whether hotel rooms can be found for the program. Klekamp’s email suggests the Gundersen Hotel and Suites as one possibility, pending approval from Gundersen.

County leaders met Friday to discuss the emergency plan, which comes after an email from Gundersen’s Sandy Brekke to the county board that raised the alarm about the “urgent situation” facing the unsheltered. Brekke, who is a Senior Consultant in the Office of Population Health at Gundersen, told the board that there were people who had tested positive for covid sleeping outside in La Crosse.

“According to our homeless data, there are more people homeless than we have room for in our shelters,” Brekke added in her email on Wednesday. “Our shelters cannot take people who are ill inside and have no place to put people if they become ill while in shelter.”

There’s currently no quarantine/isolation space available for the unsheltered in La Crosse County, even as covid cases continue to surge. The county’s plan could help to meet that need, although it’s unclear if it will be sufficient to do so. Klekamp notes in her email that the county is looking to work with local partners on a broader, long-term solution for those who are without shelter in La Crosse. That group is likely to include the city, health care providers, and the Coulee Collaborative to End Homelessness.

“We are asking for the assistance of community partners to help with the long-term issue of individuals that are not currently housed in any shelter,” Klekamp’s email stated. “It’s understood that long-term shelter for the winter is important, as it is every winter, but La Crosse County does not believe it has the solution for that need but is interested in hearing what the community partners have developed as a solution that can be taken to the County Board of Supervisors for approval.”

*Check back to the La Crosse Independent tomorrow for more reporting on how the current situation facing the local unsheltered population developed over recent months.

By Eric Timmons. Email questions or story ideas to lacrosseindependent@gmail.com.

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