Goal is to reduce homelessness for individuals and families in La Crosse County.
A new program that aims to increase housing stability by reducing the impact of evictions in La Crosse County is expected to launch in June.
Legal Action of Wisconsin will receive $60,000 each from La Crosse County, the City of La Crosse, and the La Crosse Community Foundation for the program over two years to provide representation to tenants facing eviction in smalls claims court. Attorneys will represent clients in court to prevent eviction when a defense is possible. In other cases, the attorneys will work to negotiate reasonable terms for a move to avoid or reduce periods of homelessness.
“The broad project goal is simply to increase housing stability for low-income households in the community,” said Amanda Schamens, Managing Attorney with Legal Aid Wisconsin’s La Crosse office.
The pilot program will ensure those facing eviction have access to legal representation, even if they have been unable to reach out to Legal Action prior to the morning of their court hearing. Monica Kruse, La Crosse County Board Chair, hopes the program will reduce the disruption that periods of homelessness cause for many people. This can include losing work, children missing school, and negative impacts for individual and community health.
“At a time when homelessness is already consuming a lot of time, energy and resources from local governments this is a way to get upstream of the problems that cause people to become unsheltered,” Kruse said. “We hope it will reduce the costs to the public of homelessness by keeping more people in their homes, or at least giving people additional time to arrange a move.”
People can reach out to get information on the program at the Legal Action office at 700 3rd Street N, Suite 203, La Crosse. Flyers will be available at the REACH Center, and at other partner organizations such as Couleecap. Hetti Brown, Couleecap’s Executive Director, said she’s excited for the program to start.
“Evictions often mean that temporary hardships have permanent consequences,” said Brown. “Access to legal counsel through eviction proceedings is important to ensure that the individual’s rights are protected as they remedy the situation and also that housing security throughout our community is strengthened.”
The county board approved funding for the two-year pilot program in November, 2021, but it has taken longer than expected to get additional staffing at Legal Action to launch the project. However, Legal Action has recently added a new attorney to its La Crosse team, allowing the program to start in June. Similar programs are in existence in a number of cities around the country and have shown promising results.