Written by on January 16, 2024

In our community, we currently have more than 160 students who are experiencing homelessness just in the school district of La Crosse. When the local homeless population is discussed, it is usually about individuals, and often overlooks the amount of children and families that do not have a permanent home.

Nancy Parcher and Emily Purvis, Community Health Workers with the La Crosse Area YMCA, and Alicia Place, Community Services Coordinator for the School District of La Crosse, joined the Z93 Morning Buzz to talk more about this issue and how the community can help.

The La Crosse Area Family YMCA has a team of 4 Community Health Workers. (CHWs) The Community Health Worker team at the La Crosse YMCA is on the frontlines of addressing the public health crisis that is homelessness, working directly with the adults, youth and families in our area struggling to fill their basic need of shelter.

They are the bridge that connects people to healthcare and resources to help them live healthier lives. CHWs help with overcoming barriers, navigating systems, advocating for their clients, providing health education, and coordinating services.

The YMCA receives referrals from local schools to work with families who are experiencing homelessness. Often, these families had a major life crisis that caused them to lose their housing. These are the “hidden homeless” in our city. Most of the conversations around local homelessness are concentrated on individuals, so many are not aware of the fact that we have children in our local schools that are living in hotels and sometimes in their family’s vehicle. There are very limited shelter spaces for families in La Crosse as the Warming Center is only for adults.

We often hear people say, “get a job”, when the topic of homelessness comes up. The YMCA works with families who have jobs and are working, but still cannot obtain housing on their own. Rent in La Crosse is expensive. An average apartment for a family is $1200/month. This leaves very little left for an emergency fund after childcare costs, vehicle payments, and living expenses. Many families in our area are living paycheck-to-paycheck. When families have unexpected car repairs, medical costs, or loss of income due to illness, it can be an intense struggle to pay rent. Many in our community are just one crisis away from losing their housing.

Childcare can be another barrier for families. While there are available jobs in our community, a lot of those jobs are not at a livable wage and many require hours that do not coincide with available childcare. Often, childcare centers have long waiting lists.

Transportation is another barrier for families. The lack of a vehicle can impact employment as families are dependent on public transportation which doesn’t always run during work schedules and locations.

The YMCA is partnering with the La Crosse School District and the Great Rivers United Way to help families address these barriers. They are accepting food, hygiene, and monetary donations. These donations will help provide financial assistance for security deposits, utility bills, and more.

They also work closely with TheExchange in La Crosse to connect clients to furniture, home goods, and more. This is another great place to donate gently used items such as blankets, pillows, bathroom items, kitchenware, and small appliances.

Thanks to our sponsors, Optical Fashions and River Valley Remodelers, Zcare was able to donate $2,000 to support their efforts!

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