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Alma Community Is Divided On Proposal To House Unaccompanied Youth

Michelle Jokisch Polo
Alma residents attend public meeting at Alma High School to share input on a proposed shelter for refugee youth.

A new site in Alma could soon house up to 36 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the U.S. Dozens spoke on the proposal at a public meeting on Monday.

Bethany Christian Services is proposing to lease a vacant nursing home and convert it into a shelter to house the adolescents. 

To do that, Bethany is asking the Alma City Commission to rezone the vacant building of the former Warwick Living Center. The nursing home is owned by the Michigan Masonic Home and would be leased to Bethany for a little over $31,000 dollars per month.

Long time Alma resident Yvette Franco-Clark has been organizing her neighbors against the proposal. She said she doesn't believe the vetting process the youth would undergo is sufficient.

“Without vetting them down there on what the real situation is revolving around each individual child, because they don't have the manpower, they're going to bring them here and place them in our already filthy system," she said.

Franco-Clark was one of dozens of residents who spoke against the proposal at the public meeting held at Alma High School on Monday evening.

"I don't know why it's so important for people in society to continuously sacrifice all of our children in so many different levels of life," she told the City Commission. "It makes no sense to me. And that's what I, that's what we get tired of. While you use our tax dollars to do this very thing," she said. 

Speakers were divided on the issue with many expressing concerns about the organization's ability to care for the youth. 

Jackie Smith grew up in Alma and said she would like to see her community support the proposal. 

"This would help our economy," she said. "I think just bringing 50 jobs to the Alma area is significant."

Krista Stevens, Bethany Christian Services' regional director for the area, said approving the proposal would be beneficial for Alma's economy.

"More than 50 jobs will be created after the proposal is approved, bringing significant resources into the community and supporting the local economy," she said. "If it's not approved, the Warwick Living Center could remain unoccupied."

According to Bethany Christian Services, funding for the shelter would come from the federal government. The commission is scheduled to make a decision on the proposal by next month. The meeting is set for 6pm on August 2nd. 

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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