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City of La Crosse providing hotel vouchers to shelter families and individuals experiencing homelessness

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The City of La Crosse is providing funding for vouchers for hotel rooms in order to house unsheltered families and individuals.

Since the start of COVID, the Salvation Army of La Crosse County was using some hotel vouchers for shelter. Krista Coey, Director of Social Services at the Salvation Army explained that they were housing people at the Gundersen Hotel.

"That was going really well but rooms were expensive there and so we racked up quite a bill right away. Slowly there was a transition and we ended up at Econolodge," said Coey.

She explained that the county was using it as a quarantine and isolation site and then when they backed out, the Salvation Army still saw a need for families that they couldn't fit in its shelter. So they ended up getting a block of 25 rooms at the Econolodge with the help of the city.

"The city of La Crosse had a certain amount of money they could donate to us so we just broke it down, what we could cover for staffing and what we could cover for hotel costs to make it last as long as we could and accommodate as many people as we knew we needed to," said Coey.

The city of La Crosse covered the first three months. Then the month of March was covered by the FSPA and The La Crosse Community Foundation.

"It allowed us to go through the end of March but we knew there was still a need. Staffing was a little bit different to coordinate and then we decided to do it the voucher way so we can continue to support families in just a little bit different, but more flexible way," said Coey.

$40,000 in vouchers will be provided by ESG COVID relief funding. Along with that $75,000 was just approved through the city to help as well. Coey explained that a small portion of that will go to the Case Manager that works with the families while they are in shelter but $60-65,000 will go towards the vouchers themselves which gives them around 1,000 nights in hotel rooms.

Caroline Gregerson, the city's Community Development Administrator, said the money for this program is provided by the CARES Act.

"Originally we had planned to expend these funds on contract tracing through La Crosse County and we received notification from them last week that they no longer needed the $75,000 for contract tracing. We looked at our projects and where the need was and determined that it might be in a mortgage assistance program, or continuing to help the Salvation Army," said Gregerson.

While they believed mortgage assistance is important, they believed helping house families was necessary.

"It is heartbreaking for me to think about children not knowing where they are going to wake up the next morning and this just helps a little bit to know we have an emergency solution for them," said Gregerson.

The vouchers will primarily be for families and individuals who have a higher risk when it comes to COVID. Coey said the entire program has helped them out a lot when it comes to safety and COVID.

Since September, the city funded a shelter in a motel. Gregerson stressed the importance of that project and how it gave 83 children somewhere they could stay with a roof over their heads.

"It has allowed us to meet the needs of the community where inside this building we are limited on space so moving families out allowed us to have a quarantine room and isolation place on site. That way when individuals checked in, they could go through a quarantine period," said Coey.

If anyone came down with symptoms, they brought in officials from the county and Gundersen Health System to check them out and determine how to handle it. Fortunately, she said they only dealt with two clients who came down with COVID.

"I think without the hotel and without being able to spread out, that wouldn't have been the picture," said Coey.

She said with the community's support, FSPA, and The La Crosse Community Foundation, they have been able to give support to a total of 145 people including 83 children and 49 families.

"Now we will just keep housing families like we normally would, just off-site. It's a little bit easier and more flexible for them because they can come and go where a shelter, you have the increased worry of individuals that are not going out. It just relieved a lot of pressure for everyone all around," said Coey.

"It means 1,000 nights of stays but more importantly, a roof over their heads when crisis hits and there's nowhere to go, we know that children are at least going to have a warm place to sleep at night," said Gregerson.

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Rylie Kyhn

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