TRAVERSE CITY — A Traverse City woman faces a felony arson charge after a fire at a homeless shelter in Grand Traverse County’s Garfield Township.
Debra Sue Habian, 60, an unhoused person, was arraigned Friday afternoon by 86th District Court Judge Robert Cooney on the felony count. Authorities also charged her as a habitual offender because of a 2004 conviction for arson.
Habian is accused of, on April 3, setting fire to her room at the Goodwill Inn on Keystone Road, a nonprofit facility that provides housing and other services to multiple area residents.
Court records show the fire burned clothing, bedding and other items in a single room. Also, a shelter employee extinguished the fire before emergency responders arrived, burning her hands in the process.
A Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s deputy reviewed video surveillance footage from the shelter’s security system that showed none of the other residents of the same room as Habian were in the area for 45 minutes prior to the fire, court records show.
The deputy reported the security video showed smoke billowing out of the room behind Habian when she walked out to notify shelter staff about the blaze, records show.
“Unfortunately things are happening all the time, some good and some bad,” said Deb Lake, communications director for the shelter.
“If a guest at the inn is causing harm to themselves or others, we take it seriously and do not allow it to go on,” Lake said. “We do our best to keep people experiencing homelessness safe.”
Court records show a certified fire investigator with Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department determined the fire was “incendiary” in nature, meaning deliberately ignited.
Habian was represented by a lawyer from the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission during Friday’s arraignment, and she requested continued public defense.
No attorney has yet filed with the court to defend her.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg said she cannot comment on specifics of the case, but noted Habian is innocent until proven guilty.
Despite that, the prosecutor said the case is an important one.
“Any arson case we take seriously, especially in a dwelling,” Moeggenberg said, adding the Goodwill Inn is a dwelling many people depend upon.
Meanwhile, authorities confirmed Habian remains detained at Grand Traverse County Jail in Traverse City. Her official address on file with the court matches the street address for the Goodwill Inn.
No additional court dates for Habian are yet listed in court records.