Alma community grapples with vote that approved shelter for young migrants

The vote happened at the Alma City Commission meeting Tuesday night.
Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 3:50 PM EDT
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ALMA, Mich. (WJRT) - After months of debate, the Alma community is looking to move forward after the city commission approved a rezoning request that paves the way for a shelter for young migrants.

The vote happened at the Alma City Commission meeting Tuesday night. Commissioners voted 4-2 in favor of approving a rezoning request that will allow Bethany Christian Services to operate the shelter at the former Warwick Living Center.

ABC12 first spoke to Bethany Christian Services back in June about its plans for the shelter. It will house up to 36 young migrants for a short period of time.

Last month, the Alma Planning Commission took up the rezoning request. It ultimately decided to recommend that the city commission vote down the request but that’s not what commissioners voted to do.

The vote on Tuesday clears the way for Bethany Christian Services to open the shelter. Krista Stevens, executive branch director of the East Lansing location at Bethany Christian Services, released this statement to ABC12:

“We’re grateful that the Alma City Commission approved our request for rezoning the Warwick Living Center. Over the last several months, I and my teammates at Bethany have had the opportunity to get to know so many members of the community here in Alma and across Gratiot County. We appreciate the thoughtful questions that were brought forward and the dialogue about what this could mean for the community. We believe that Alma is a compassionate and welcoming community, and we look forward to providing life-saving services for vulnerable children and youth here in Alma.”

For residents living in town, they have faced community-wide debate on the topic over the last few months. The debate sparked protests and lengthy city meetings.

Mary Anne Evans-Justin has stood firm in supporting the shelter and said that she was happy to see how the vote turned out.

“I from early childhood have been an advocate of social justice, peacemaking, looking out for those who are on the fringes and outsiders of our society,” she said.

Evans-Justin was in attendance of the commission meeting on Tuesday.

“I was very pleased that commissioners gave their rationale and reasons for their vote,” Evans-Justin said.

Alma City Manager, Matt Schooley, said the meeting took about two hours and that it happened without any issues.

“Actually very respectful,” he said. “One of the more respectful meetings we’ve had at the end of this part of the chapter.”

Schooley said in his career, he has never seen a topic cause so much debate in Alma before. He said that there are strong opinions on both sides of the argument but hopes to see everyone come together and find some middle ground.

“We need to move forward but we need to move forward now with this identified issue that we have,” he said. “There’s no way to sweep everything under the rug and move forward, it’s to have the dialogue and to do the things that we have been working on in this community for a while.”

Schooley admits this will be a tough thing to do but believes it is what is best for the community.

“We do have differences of opinion but that’s what will make us better in the long run as long as we respect each other through the process,” Schooley said.

By the next city commission meeting, a formal ordinance will be drafted and the rezoning will take place. Schooley said that from the city’s standpoint, once that happens and pending any other legal review, the city’s role will be complete and the shelter can move forward.

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