“Discrimination for housing needs to stop:” Some families struggle to find a new home after Coldwater Inn fire

Posted at 4:53 PM, Feb 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-19 16:53:30-05

COLDWATER, Mich. – Some 28 families in Coldwater are struggling to find housing, after crews said an electrical fire destroyed many of their long-term homes at the Coldwater Inn on Monday morning. Thursday, the American Red Cross opened its shelter at the Franklin High School building in Girard, located at 1011 School Drive.

Jessie Smith and Melissa Bonds are two of about 60 people who have lost everything but each other.

"My mom used to write notes and put them in a Bible,” said Smith. “My mom died 15 years ago, that Bible's gone, her blanket is gone. I don't have any of that anymore. It meant everything to me."

After flames ripped through the Coldwater Inn early Monday morning, their homes were destroyed.

"My fiancé woke me up smelling smoke, we rushed outside man and there it is: the place is gone; it's going up,” said Smith.

But on top of that, they lost a community; a group of strangers who Bonds said depended on each other and became family.

"That was the last stop for people here: when you couldn't find housing, couldn't get help through Pines or DHS, you knew that you could go out to Coldwater Inn and there was a family out there that would help,” said Bonds.

Bonds, her husband, and their five younger children may not stay at the shelter in Girard because she said it's too far from school, but she is headed there to get help.

At 1011 School Drive, American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Adam Castle said he is in awe of the community pulling together.

"Every part of this community has come together: we had donation centers, people showing up as spontaneous volunteers, we've had people ask what they can do to help,” said Castle. “That's a really cool thing to be a part of."

While Smith and Bonds stay the night with extended family, they said this raises another serious issue about employment and housing inequality.

"I think the discrimination for housing needs to stop, for jobs needs to stop,” said Smith.

“Just because somebody walks in looking ragged, that means they need that job more. Someone homeless applies for a job, they shouldn't be turned away because they don't have an address."

Smith is a technician, but he said he has only been able to work part-time at a gas station, and he feels cut short.

"We've been calling places, a lot of us from the Inn have been calling places, and when we mention we lived at the Inn we've been hung up on, we've been told ‘no,’" said Smith.

Castle said the American Red Cross shelter will stay open until they find all families long-term housing.

Families had been staying at the Red Roof Inn until Thursday, which Smith said was paid for by the owner of the Coldwater Inn.