BUSHNELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - A hay barn, owned by the mother of State Sen. Judy Emmons, burned to the ground early Tuesday morning and killed one person who was inside it at the time.
Emergency crews went to the barn near M-66 and Sessions Road in Montcalm County's Bushnell Township around 2:30 a.m. It didn't take long for firefighters to figure out the barn would be destroyed.
But during the clean-up they found a body burned so badly authorities are having a hard time identifying who it is.
Sheriff Bill Barnwell said the victim is not a member of the Emmons family.
"We suspect it could be a homeless man," said Montcalm County Undersheriff Mark Bellinger.
"You gotta feel for the guy who was here because we still have our family members," said Emmons, a Republican from Sheridan. "It didn't affect any of our animals so we are grateful for that, too."
Emmons' family owns and farms the property, and Emmons' mother, Phoebe Wilson, told 24 Hour News 8 she found evidence in the vacant home next to the barn that someone had been sleeping there in the past. She added padlocks to her door, she said.
Police heard similar stories.
"There has been a gentleman who frequents that area quite often living in abandoned homes and buildings," Bellinger said. "We suspect it could be him, but we don't have a positive ID."
Investigators are currently working the theory that whoever sought shelter in the barn may have tried to light a small fire to stay warm.
There is no timetable on when the person who died will be identified.
Unemployment in Montcalm County is 10.8% - above the state average of 9%.
Mike Dekker of GLC Hope Ministries said he's seen an increase for services. He said his shelter for men averages "between 30 and 40" who haven't "worked in a long time. They have exhausted their unemployment and there is nothing left."
His program runs only on donations, and in the last week the food pantry has no food. Dekker said the answer is job -- but he doesn't see much relief in sight.
"A lot of the jobs that are out there are part-time," he said, "and it is hard to support yourself."
The following are some resources in Montcalm County that focus on homelessness (courtesy of Mike Dekker of Hope Rescue Mission in Greenville:)
904 Oak Drive
Greenvile, MI 48838
Advocates and promotes the health and welfare of the residents of Ionia & Montcalm Counties by addressing causes of poverty by teaching self-sufficiency through variety of services.
GLC Hope Ministries
1015 E. Washington St.
Greenville, MI 48838
Hope Rescue Mission is a part of GLC Hope Ministries that provides shelter and a Life Skills Program for homeless men in the greater Montcalm County area. There are certain elegibility requirements in order to become a resident.
705 N. Hillcrest St
Greenville, MI 48838
Assisting homeless individuals and families find appropriate shelter.
Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (Ionia and Montcalm Counties)
616-527-3351 ext. 251
The entry point for Housing First vouchers for those who are homeless.
Ionia/Montcalm Continuum of Care
PO Box 286
Ionia, MI 48846
Addressing and responding to homelessness in Ionia and Montcalm Counties through coordinating services that provide preventative services and a rapid responds to those who become homeless.
Relief After Violent Encounter (RAVE)
Primarily addresses the needs of Domestic Violence Victims in Ionia and Montcalm Counties but also provides temporary shelter for homeless women in the counties too.
United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counites: 2-1-1
PO Box 186
Belding, MI 48809
2-1-1 will provide callers with information and referrals to appropriate social service agencies.
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