On the night before Manyu and I were to return to the United States from France, my niece Sheela stopped by to see us. Her home is in Los Angeles, but she was en route to a destination wedding in Sardinia. Sheela is an influencer, and reporting on the weddings of her rich Asian American friends is somehow part of her job. After enjoying a three-day party in the Mediterranean, her plan was to go to London to meet with one of her sponsors. After that, she had a bachelorette party in Miami. I understand little about social media and even less about being an online influencer. This is evidenced by the fact that my blog peaks at fewer than fifty viewers a week. In comparison, one of Sheela’s podcasts went viral and had ten million hits. 

After Manyu and I returned to La Crosse, I went back to bicycling every day, and my usual route takes me past the homeless enclave in Houska Park. People have lived in the park for years, but this summer’s encampment is twice the size it’s ever been. I think (and hope) the reason for the expansion is that homeless people from throughout the city are drawn to the park and not because their numbers overall have doubled. The City has run electricity to the park’s tent city and added additional bathrooms. The police, which hassle troublesome vagrants in the city’s other parks, offer protection at Houska. While less than a mile from the heart of downtown, Houska Park is the black sheep of La Crosse’s park system. It is in the middle of the industrial waterfront and adjacent the sewage treatment plant. It has a dog park and a softball diamond, but little else to attract recreationists. If the City’s objective is to channel its homeless to an out-of-sight location, Houska Park is a good place to do it. Yesterday when I bicycled through the park, one of the residents ran up and starting yelling obscenities at me. Just as quickly, another resident ran up and apologized for the behavior of his neighbor.

Talking with Sheela and then riding my bike through Houska Park made me realize the extent of my middle class existence. I cut my own lawn and rake my own leaves. I put decals on my windows so birds don’t fly into the glass. I shop at a discount supermarket, but also belong to the local food co-op. I seldom spend more than twelve dollars for a bottle of wine and fondly recall the days not long ago when I didn’t spend more than ten. I’ve been to France once in my life, but I drive to Canada once a year. Perhaps most significantly, I trust my pension and Social Security checks will show up in my bank account every month. 

I visit a homebound next door neighbor once a week. I told him about bicycling through Houska Park, and he said that his at-home caregiver drops off her young kids at the park every morning before making her rounds. Her brother lives in a tent there, and he watches the kids while she is at work. When Clare was a little girl, I intentionally directed her away from homeless people. This single mom, trying to raise a family on $15/hour (even though my neighbor pays an agency $40/hour for her services), does exactly the opposite and relies on a homeless sibling for childcare. I know almost nothing about people who are substantially wealthier or poorer than I am.


Houska Park Tent City

Steven Simpson