'Here & Now' Highlights: David Helpap, Mayor Mitch Reynolds

Here's what guests on the April 12, 2024 episode said about why residents of rural areas are increasingly not running for local office and what La Crosse is doing to fight chronic homelessness.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

April 15, 2024

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Frederica Freyberg sits at a desk on the Here & Now set and faces a video monitor showing an image of David Helpap.

Frederica Freyberg and David Helpap (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

An aging population in rural Wisconsin and modern-day demands have led to a decrease in the numbers of people willing or able to serve in local government — UW-Green Bay professor David Helpap is researching the key reasons for this decline in public service. In La Crosse, a new plan to end chronic homelessness is modeled after other cities like Milwaukee that successfully reduced their population of long-term unsheltered people — Mayor Mitch Reynolds said the city is working with La Crosse County to achieve their goals by 2029.

David Helpap
Professor, UW-Green Bay Department of Political Science

  • In Superior, a candidate for the Douglas County Board of Supervisors won two seats as a write-in during the spring 2024 election, which also saw four board races without any candidate on the ballot. Helpap explained how a declining interest in local government positions is especially acute in rural areas.
  • Helpap: “What we’ve seen over the last few years is that there has just been sort of a declining interest in and participating in politics more broadly. But when you start talking about rural areas, we have a situation where the population is declining, and a lot of those areas it’s getting older, and there has been some significant concern from those who are currently in office that once they retire or move on from public service that there really isn’t going to be the next sort of cohort of individuals to take their place. That, the next generation, the next group, doesn’t really have an interest in taking on that role.”


Mitch Reynolds
Mayor, La Crosse

  • With the population of people experiencing chronic homelessness in La Crosse estimated to be about 200 individuals and 20 families, the city and county have combined efforts to address mental health needs, provide shelter space and transition residents into permanent affordable housing. It’s a five-year plan called “Pathways Home,” with a goal of ending the plight of unsheltered people by 2029. For Mayor Reynolds, it’s excruciating to see the enduring problem in his city.
  • Reynolds: “It feels like failure every single day. That’s how it feels. It’s constant work. It’s exhausting. But I’m not going to quit. It is absolutely critical for our community to address the needs of the most vulnerable, for those individuals and for our community as well. We have to. We have to be able to believe that we are a kind of community that looks out for those who are living on the edge of the abyss. It’s critical work, and it’s something I’m completely dedicated to. But yeah, it feels like failure every single day.”


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