Ending homelessness the La Crosse way

St. Paul’s skyways are going to close earlier to help keep them “vibrant.” That’s code for keeping homeless people out. And in La Crosse, Wis., Wednesday is the deadline for homeless people to leave their “tent city” at the confluence of the Mississippi and Black rivers across from the Riverside International Friendship Gardens. Recent rains have pushed the river to the edge of their tents.

Driving out of St. Paul at rush hour requires the art of not making guilty eye contact with people holding cardboard signs at every intersection asking for help. Maybe they’re homeless; maybe they’re not. They’re still a visible testimony to an economic reality that maybe a couple of tents along the side of Interstate 94 gives testimony to.

The latest homeless count around St. Cloud showed a 10 percent increase in the number of people living outside.

Nearly 40 percent of all homeless people live in towns and cities in Greater Minnesota, Cathy ten Broeke, state director to Prevent and End Homelessness with the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness, wrote in an op-ed earlier this month.

This is a problem that doesn’t look like it’s getting any better, but it’s not for lack of trying — and there are successes.

La Crosse, for example, has been particularly pro-active, setting a July 31 goal for finding housing for 20 chronically homeless people. Thus tomorrow’s deadline.

In fact, La Crosse has achieved what’s called “functional zero,” the point at which there is more housing available than homeless people to take advantage of it.

The next step, the La Crosse Tribune reports, is actually ending chronic homelessness.

The homeless collaboration there held a seminar for landlords. Fifteen of them showed up to hear about resources including agencies that will help double security deposits.

That’s 15 people who see a role for themselves in being part of a community’s initiative.

Related: Portland puts panhandlers to work (WBUR)