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“I was homeless with my 3 babies living in my car… This is the best opportunity I have ever had.”

– Couleecap Participant

Women and children represent the fastest growing population experiencing housing insecurity. 

From 2017- 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reported almost 19,000 homeless students across the state. In 2019, the Point In Time homeless count in La Crosse recorded 61 women and children experiencing homelessness.

Additionally the National Alliance to End Homelessness, found that 85% of homeless families are led by single women. Thus, single mothers make up a large portion of the people Couleecap is supporting through their housing programs.

Couleecap has helped people experiencing homelessness in the La Crosse area for over 20 years. The Women’s Fund has been supporting Couleecap for the past eight years in a 4:1 match from the federal government. 

Couleecap’s transitional housing programs help individuals secure housing for up to two years. However, according to Kim Cable, Couleecap’s Housing and Community Services Director, “It’s way more than just housing that people are needing.”

Single mothers frequently struggle to support their families with one income. Furthermore, many women experiencing homelessness have left abusive relationships or experienced generational homelessness. Merely addressing income and housing is not always sufficient to creating sustainable change.

Consequently, Couleecap’s programs aim to provide a safe and affordable place to live while also connecting participants with resources and skills to rely on after they exit the program. 

“We are no longer forced to decide where we will be tomorrow or next week.”

– Couleecap Participant

Couleecap helps households develop an individualized support plan for housing stability. This plan helps the family identify and work towards their goals while they have support in place. 

Couleecap’s support services include programs to help families with budgeting and money management, healthy eating, employment and educational support as well as skill and homeowner development skills. Specifically, rent assistance allows single mothers to develop self-sufficiency and increase their independence by pursuing career and educational opportunities. 

To receive housing assistance, individuals can go to any housing program in the Coulee Region (Catholic Charities, Couleecap, New Horizons, Salvation Army, etc.) and get referred to the  coordinated system for housing assistance. When an opening becomes available, the coordinated entry system ensures that the individual or family at the top of the list is contacted by whichever program has housing resources available.

However, many individuals in La Crosse experience chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness lasts at least a year and while experiencing a disabling condition. In the La Crosse community, there are individuals who have experienced six to eight years of homelessness.

Once an individual receives housing assistance, the struggle is not over. According to Cable, the pressure households experience to stabilize their situation in under two years creates anxiety for a lot of families.

This barrier has prompted Couleecap to change their housing model to permanent supportive housing in order to provide greater stability for their participants. 

Couleecap recognizes that when individuals are concerned with the safety or permanence of their housing, they cannot focus on opportunities for growth and achievement. In order to promote opportunities for women in La Crosse, they must first have access to safe and affordable housing.

Couleecap has been fighting poverty in the La Crosse area for over 50 years. Please visit Couleecap’s website for more information on their homeless assistance program. Grants from the Women’s Fund are matched 4:1 by the federal government.