July 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Michigan private facility could house children fleeing Central America

Federal officials looking to place refugee children from Central America in facilities to help give them shelter with one location being eyed in Michigan.

“While only a few facilities will ultimately be selected, a wide range of facilities are being identified and evaluated to determine if” they will be used as temporary shelter space,” Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human services’ department’s administration for children and families, said in a statement. “Facilities will be announced when they are identified as viable options.”

Wolfe said the facilities, which could be state or local providers, are being identified by the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. General Services Administration “to increase the medical care and temporary sheltering capacity of the HHS.”

City leaders met with officials from the Wolverine Human Services facility in Vassar Tuesday afternoon to discuss the ramifications of housing the children, part of a wave of young immigrants flowing over the southwest border with Mexico. But they left the meeting with no comment about what was specifically discussed.

Derrick McCree, a senior vice president of Wolverine Human Services, who said he is speaking for his Grosse Pointe Park company and the city about the refugee children, said no contract has been offered so no details about how many children and where they will be from are known yet. There are about 145 beds at Wolverine’s Vassar facility, which opened in 1988.

“It was just to advise folks that we don’t have a contract,” McCree said.

“We’re looking at some options and we’ll see what becomes of it but at this point we really don’t have much more to reveal because we don’t have anything settled yet.”

McCree said the office of refugee resettlement through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is handling the refugee issue and is seeking facilities across the country, including the one in Vassar, that have empty, available beds.

Vassar is about 100 miles northeast of Detroit in Tuscola County, near Saginaw.

McCree said he hasn’t heard how many children could be sent to Michigan if a deal is worked out or who would pay for it.

Unaccompanied Central American children have been showing up by the thousands since October, fleeing violence at home. The federal government has been trying to find a place to house the refugees.

Councilman Ted Gamet said he and other city officials agreed not to talk about the issue and to speak only through McCree. He praised the company, saying “everything that Wolverine Human Services has done in Vassar has been positive in this community.”

Wolverine, which specializes in working with youth and their families, also has facilities in Detroit and Saginaw. They provide adoptive, foster care and juvenile justice treatment services.

The Pioneer Work and Learn Center in Vassar was developed to provide a “unique six-month residential treatment program with vocational work study and experimental outdoor activities combined with a six-month aftercare program,” according to the company’s website.

Some residents wondered if Vassar is the right place for relocating some of the refugees.

Chris Cunningham, a lifelong resident, said schools have been struggling and job opportunities have declined since a foundry recently closed.

“I know they need a place to go ... . Vassar people have big hearts. They’ll probably welcome them with open arms,” she said. “But I don’t know how it would help our economy any.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com
(313) 223-2620
Staff Writer Mark Hicks and the Associated Press contributed.