ALMA, Mich. (AP) — Officials in a mid-Michigan city granted a request to house migrant boys in a former nursing home, rejecting the recommendation of the planning commission and upsetting opponents who had criticized the proposal during tense summer meetings.
The Alma City Commission voted, 4-2, Tuesday night to approve a zoning change sought by Bethany Christian Services. The meeting was held in the high school to accommodate a crowd of 120 people.
“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,” said Krista Stevens of Grand Rapids-based Bethany.
Bethany wants to use a former nursing home to provide housing for up to 40 days or until a sponsor can be found. The boys, ages 12 to 17, crossed the U.S. border without parents or guardians and do not have legal status in this country.
Alma, population 9,400, is 50 miles north of Lansing and probably best known as the home of Alma College.
The Alma Planning Commission had recommended that the zoning change be rejected. Members said opposition in the community made it difficult to determine if certain conditions could be met to justify the rezoning.
But city Commissioner Roger Allman said safety issues raised by critics “could not be backed up with facts.”
He and two other commissioners visited a Bethany refugee assessment center in Grand Rapids and found it “very professional and reassuring.”
“I think this will be a good thing for Alma,” Allman said.
The state Department of Civil Rights had warned Alma against making decisions based on fears, stereotypes and “unfounded assumptions."