COLDWATER, Mich. — Melissa Bonds will never forget the fire that tore through her home almost two years ago. She was living at the Coldwater Inn with her husband and five kids when it burned down. It left them, and dozens of other families, homeless.
“You go to bed at night with an assurance that 'this is my place' and your kids go to bed with the comfort that ‘this is my bed,’” said Bonds about living at the inn. “That feeling of ‘yours’ you don’t have that.”
She’s been looking for that feeling of home for two years since the fire happened, calling around to local landlords and homeowners in search of an apartment. But nothing’s worked out, she said.
“It’s ‘you don’t have enough income,’” said Bonds during an interview near her grandmother’s home. “Or you need to pass a background check, credit check. And there’s not very many jobs here.”
Bonds, 34, said she’s been looking for a steady job as well but most don’t pay well. So she’s looked for a additional work to make more money. Nonetheless, she believes the main reason they’re still homeless is because of housing discrimination. Once the landlords oor homeowners look at the hotel address on the application, they scratch her name of the list, she said, or don’t call her back at all.
“I just think that a lot of homeowners associated the hotel with ‘oh well they must be bad people because they live there,’” said Bonds whose husband is disabled. “There was bad people there. But there was also families there who cared about their children very much and all worked together to make it a normal living place for our kids.”
Months after the fire happened, the state removed her five kids from her care. Even though Bonds searched for housing in several counties — Hillsdale, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Branch — and made countless phone calls with her Pines Behavioral case worker by her side helping her, the state took them away and put them in foster care.
“When the fire happened that was traumatizing,” said Bonds with tears in her eyes. “But when they took my kids that that like killed me inside.”
Bonds said they were removed because of ‘unstable living conditions.’ She wasn’t a bad parent and did not neglect or kids. She just didn’t have a home. And putting them in foster care, she said, hurt them emotionally.
“No family could take all four of my kids so they separated them,” Bonds said emotionally. “My oldest daughter went to a good home. The three younger ones did not. My oldest son, he’s autistic. He still has nightmares. He wakes up screaming.”
She said her 4-year-old daughter would come to visits with “bruises, human bite marks.” She immediately told Child Protective Services and in May 2016, after eight months away, the kids were returned to her. They’re now all living together with her 72-year-old grandmother in tight quarters but she’s not giving up the search for a new home. February 2nd she returns to CPS court to see if the kids can continue to live with her. She’s determined to make sure they go home with her that day.
“I just I don’t want them to have a reason to take my babies away again,” said Bonds. “I just want a home.”