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Family forced to go to homeless shelter after property owner/pastor failed to pay utility bills

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. -- The building where Tamela Day lived with her children was boarded up -- off limits with all of her belongings locked inside on Christmas Eve. They were staying with a relative for the holidays, but planned to go to a homeless shelter on Wednesday, Dec. 26.

"Tomorrow is Christmas," Day said on Monday, Dec. 24. "It was our home. I had plans the way I was going to do stuff for (Christmas) morning, cook breakfast. I can't do that now."

Day said her landlord, Pastor James Duncan Jr., hadn't returned her calls so she could get her belongings from her apartment. She said she paid $125 a week.

At no fault of her own, the city evicted Day and 14 other people from the building because Duncan failed to pay the utilities. Residents were given just four hours notice to leave.

“We have been working diligently on and off with Pastor Duncan for over a year," said Muskegon Heights Fire Chief Christopher Dean.

According to the city, Duncan was behind on his water and sewer bill by $3,000 and the electricity had been shut off. Chief Dean said residents used candles for light, which is a fire hazard. They used a stove for heat, which could cause asphyxiation. On top of that, he said the building is deteriorating.

"Unfortunately, as we continue to work with him on this, the conditions of the structure continue to deteriorate,” said Dean.

The city won't allow people inside to get their stuff unless Duncan is present during daylight hours.

"Thank God I have my job, OK? So I was able to get more underwear, socks and personal [items]," said Day.

Day was staying with her sister and sister's children in the meantime.

"[It's] a set back, you know, but it's temporary. I ain't trippin'. I just wanted to know what was really going on. This would have been prevented," she said.

Day said Duncan tried to downplay the electric being shut off the day before the city kicked them out. When a crew from WXMI knocked on Pastor Duncan's door at his home, no one answered. WXMI told Duncan's nephew they'd like to speak the property owner. The nephew was in the driveway.

Meanwhile, Day was optimistic she and her children are going to be alright as they transition to a homeless shelter.

According to federal records online, WXMI found three bankruptcy filings for James Duncan. That includes one from earlier this year. He lists Consumers Energy as a creditor. The trustee motioned to dismiss the case, in part, because Duncan allegedly failed to provide the necessary utility bills, proof of income and allegedly failed to file tax returns from 2012 through 2017. The case was dismissed.