Homeless In La Crosse Lose One Of Few Places Offering Shelter

A Local Church Closes Their ‘Tent Ministry’ Due To Overcrowding, Other Issues

Hope Kirwan/WPR

A church in La Crosse is closing its yard to the homeless due to increasing numbers and lack of insurance coverage.

The Wesley United Methodist Church started letting the homeless pitch tents and camp on their lawn last summer. But overcrowding and recent incidents led the church’s insurance company to stop covering the event, said Irene TenEyck, coordinator for the church’s Sacred Grounds Tent Ministry.

“We’ve had a very large influx of unsheltered folks coming to our backyard just in the last week or two,” TenEyck said. “There have been some challenges where large groups of people gather (and) there have been some incidences.”

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These factors made the church feel like it could no longer provide a safe space for the unsheltered to sleep, TenEyck said.

“The saddest part about that is that according to our guests, this is the safest place in the community for them to be,” she said.

Local nonprofit Couleecap estimates that there are nearly 400 homeless people living in La Crosse, Crawford, Monroe and Vernon Counties, with over 60 percent of the homeless population living in La Crosse County.

Community members expressed sadness and worry Monday night over where the homeless can go during the evening.

There aren’t many options left for those without shelter, said Matthew Kinstler, a homeless veteran in La Crosse.

“The alternatives are the Salvation Army, or there was here, or ‘tent city’ I’ve heard. I mean it costs $800 to $1,000 a month to live in a hotel,” Kinstler said.

Lack of accommodations for unsheltered people can also be challenging for local law enforcement.

Community resource officer for the La Crosse Police Department, Joel Miller, said he and his partner work with the homeless community every day, but there isn’t a clear solution for people without shelter.

“It’s tough as far as the long term solutions go,” Miller said when asked where the homeless can seek shelter. “That’s kind of part of the problem is that we don’t have a lot of legitimate safe places to direct them.”

For now, Wesley United Methodist will no longer allow people to camp out on their lawn. The church hopes to work with local law enforcement to redirect anyone seeking shelter at the church to other resources, TenEyck said.

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