Our Brother’s Keeper postpones summer closure to house fire victims

PLACE TO REST: Before running errands, Mirdza Randall makes her bed at Our Brother's Keeper. Randall is staying at the shelter after her apartment was damaged on April 24 by a large fire at Green Village Apartments. (Pioneer photos/Emily Grove-Davis)

PLACE TO REST: Before running errands, Mirdza Randall makes her bed at Our Brother’s Keeper. Randall is staying at the shelter after her apartment was damaged on April 24 by a large fire at Green Village Apartments. (Pioneer photos/Emily Grove-Davis)

BIG RAPIDS — Last Thursday, Mirdza Randall was watching an interview on the evening news about a woman who lost her house in a fire. Minutes later, Randall herself looked on as her apartment went up in flames.

Randall lived in one of the 24 units damaged in a large fire at the complex of Village Green Apartments, 1304 Catherine St. on April 24.

As Randall witnessed the place she had called home for nine years being engulfed in flames, she began to wonder—where was she going to go?

The Quality Inn took some of the affected residents in for the first night, but because of reservations and scheduling, the hotel was unable to house them longer. That’s when Randall remembered Our Brother’s Keeper, a homeless shelter in Big Rapids.

“I’ve known people who stayed here,” Randall, a former volunteer for Project Starburst, said. “I never thought I’d be one of them, of course, but this is not just a place for addicts and for drunks. It’s a place for fire victims and families in need.”

FOOD IN THE FRIDGE: Mirdza Randall shows one of two refrigerators located in the kitchen of Our Brother's Keeper. Guests at the shelter have access to the food in the cupboards and refrigerators. They must cook their own meals because the shelter is not licensed for food preparation.

FOOD IN THE FRIDGE: Mirdza Randall shows one of two refrigerators located in the kitchen of Our Brother’s Keeper. Guests at the shelter have access to the food in the cupboards and refrigerators. They must cook their own meals because the shelter is not licensed for food preparation.

A lock box and some of her medications were recovered from Randall’s apartment by firefighters. Unfortunately, pictures and mementos from Randall’s European homeland were destroyed.

Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Warren Hansen said the investigation into the fire has determined the cause was an electrical issue.

Randall has filled out applications to get into other low-income apartments owned by Medallion Management, Inc., the company that owns Green Village. The company says she and the residents impacted by the fire are first priority to occupy any of their available units, but openings aren’t expected for at least another month.

Our Brother’s Keeper typically operates from November to April. The shelter was scheduled to close on May 1, but has elected to stay open for as long as possible to accommodate guests.

“We’ve decided that our guests, to no fault of their own, are still waiting for approval on their housing, and we are going to stay open,” said Sue Roshak, vice president and public relations chair of the shelter. “If we can get volunteers to step up, we will stay open for as long as we need to.”

With weather warming up, Roshak said they could keep the shelter running with the help of six to eight volunteers each day.

When she heard the shelter was remaining open, Randall felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. If it had closed, she said she and her boyfriend, Felix Hernandez, probably would have had to sleep in her car.

“I woke up this morning and I was really almost crying thinking about having to leave here and not having anywhere to go,” Randall said. “By afternoon God had already decided there would be an extension and now that’s how I’m going to look at it – day by day.”

The shelter provides separate sleeping quarters for men and women, a kitchen, recreation room and bathrooms.

Randall said Our Brother’s Keeper has given her a sense of security in a time where there’s much uncertainty in her life. A place where she can call home and feel safe, at least for the time being.

“It’s my home base right now,” she said. “I feel it so much that I’m coming back as a volunteer. They asked me in the past to volunteer and I turned them down because I didn’t have time. Now, I’m going to make time.”

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Posted by Emily Grove

Emily is the Pioneer and Herald Review crime and court reporter, covering crime in both Mecosta and Osceola counties. She can be reached by e-mail at emily@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8362.

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