LA CROSSE Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – It’s been nearly two months since more than one hundred homeless individuals moved into a La Crosse hotel. The Econo Lodge on La Crosse’s Northside has been completely booked since mid-November. Not with people visiting the city, but with community members experiencing homelessness.

A project developed by Karuna Housing called for a building to be purchased and converted into long-term housing. Executive director Julie McDermid says the Econo lodge arrangement was a slight modification on the original plan…but with the same goal.

“We were trying to use this opportunity to sort of experiment and show that our idea for long-term, supportive housing would work, and the primary concept there is providing services on-site,” said McDermid.

St. Clare Health Mission and Gundersen Health System are among the groups helping residents like Susan Moore stay safe.

“I was homeless, and I contracted COVID while I was homeless, and I was transported directly up here from the hospital, and they have taken very good care of me here, they make sure I eat, they make sure my medical needs are attended to,” said Moore.

The city is using 700,000 dollars of COVID relief money for the hotel rental and on-site services, but it’s not a sustainable setup.

“It’s very expensive to shelter people. It’s always less expensive, and less traumatic to the individual, to get them out to their own housing, so that’s going to be our big push for the next few months.”

The Econo Lodge is rented out through the end of March. Those who can’t find housing by that point will have to go back out on the streets. Mcdermid is imploring landlords to work with housing programs to provide places for those people to go.

“Through the COVID Relief Act and through ARPA funding, there’s more money in our community than ever before in rental vouchers, but we need units to go with the rental vouchers,” said McDermid.

Moore is on a list for housing and hopes she can find a place to call home within the next two months. “We’re here, help us out, provide housing, do something.”

Mayor Mitch Reynolds recently said in a statement that city staff is working to identify safe shelter solutions for the spring when services at the Econo Lodge are set to end.