Community divided over shelter for migrant children in Alma

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ALMA Mich. (WLNS) — More than 22,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border. The number has overwhelmed government resources and has left officials racing to find shelter for them. A new site in Mid-Michigan could soon house 36 kids, but right now the community is divided on the idea.

New life to former nursing home in Alma

Tucked away in the corner of heather lane and Warwick drive sits the Warwick Living Center.
It’s vacant, but it could soon become home for 36 unaccompanied children. Bethany Christian Services is hoping to help house kids seeking refuge by giving new life to Warwick.

Boys ages 12 to 17 would be housed at the site for a short time, an average of 45 days.

Dispelling myths

Krista Stevens, director for Bethany Christian Services in East Lansing. says there are a lot of misconceptions about how the site would be used.

“A common myth is that these children are dangerous that’s not true,” Stevens said. “They’re children.

The site would provide most services in-house, and children would only leave the site with a Bethany approved staff member.

“It really is contained in a sense that all the services that we offer for the children happen in that facility. They really don’t go in to the community,” Stevens said.

According to Stevens, typically children would only leave the site for medical care. “The reasons they would go into the community are for medical care. We don’t have doctors on site so we do work with the community in that sense. but they would always be accompanied by a Bethany approved staff member,” she said.

Stevens says if the site opens, about 50 new jobs will be created in the City of Alma.

“With this facility alone we would be able to post for over 50 positions with a variety of needs everything from a youth specialist, to a cook… to grounds and maintenance staff, to clinicians, to your actual managers of the program,” Stevens said.

Community divided on the idea

Alma city officials say they’ve heard arguments on both sides and so far it’s hard to say where the community stands.

Some people say they are worried about safety.

“They do not vet them to make sure they are not part of the drug cartel, human trafficking, or MS-13, so that is my biggest concern,” said community member Yvette Clark. “I’m all about helping people, but I just want to make sure that the kids that we’re bringing in to the community are not part of any those 3 entities.”

Stevens says Clark’s concern is a common one, but says there actually is a vetting process.

“Before the children even get to us they are vetted by the border control. They work directly with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. So there is a vetting process. There are policies and laws and procedures that play into that. And that’s all public knowledge in terms of what the vetting process looks like. I would encourage any community member to research that,” Stevens said.

Others see this as an opportunity to share what Alma is all about and give a new home to children seeking refuge.

“This is a welcoming town with a lot of opportunities,” said Linda Robinson. “And its is a kinder place to live than a lot of the places in the United States. And it would offer these young people a great place to grow up and be educated and become productive members of society.”

Road to a decision

Aeric Ripley, the assistant manage for the City of Alma, says this an issue many community members feel passionate about. Ripley says he can’t remember the last time the city has received more questions about a proposal, than this one.

Right now, he’s encouraging community members to raise their voice. He says the path to approval depends heavily on the community’s input.

To open, the site would have to gain approval from the city planning commission and then a 7 member board will make a final vote.

There will be a public discussion on July 12th, that both Bethany Christian Services and city officials are hoping community members come out to. Ripley says they expect a lot of people to attend, which is why they’re holding the meeting at the Alma High School auditorium.

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