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'A big moment for us' | Leaders, advocates say Atlanta diversion center will benefit overall community

It will provide Fulton County and Atlanta law enforcement officers an alternative to address mental health and substance abuse calls.

ATLANTA — After two years of planning, Atlanta broke ground on a new diversion center in Fulton County on Friday to address mental health and substance abuse calls. 

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners adopted the resolution in 2021 to create a diversion center in downtown Atlanta. The initiative will be a collaborative effort funded by both the city and county, according to the board.

Leaders came together, equipped with sledgehammers to knock down a wall and build up the community. They said the Center for Diversion & Services will be the first step toward breaking down barriers for people who are unhoused, suffering from addiction and other societal hurdles. 

RELATED: Downtown Atlanta to house new diversion center

Several cities across the country are already offering diversion centers to help people who’d normally be routed to jail after a police call simply because there weren’t any other alternatives.

But come 2024 Atlanta’s Detention Center will have a portion of its building converted to help folks who need support services not jail cells.

“It’s a beautiful day when everybody sees the need," Khadijah Abdur-Rahman of the Fulton County Commission said. I personally traveled to Houston and Arizona to look at what I consider to be the gold and bronze standard in Diversion centers and to see here in Fulton County we’re on the way to becoming one of those centers."

Officials say the center will include peer support services, a food pantry, and many other amenities like bathrooms, lockers and showers.

Community activist Robyn Hasan says she expects the center to have a huge impact.

“It’s become a repeat cycle because there’s nothing that’s in the jail that’s actually helping people get their lives together or helping people with any kind of counseling they need. So this right here is a big moment for us and for the community of Atlanta," Hasan with Women on the Rise said.

The center is expected to open spring of 2024.

What is a diversion center? 

The Center for Diversion and Services is designed to help people with behavioral issues, mental health challenges, substance use and those experiencing homelessness. It will provide Fulton County and Atlanta law enforcement officers an alternative to address mental health and substance abuse calls and another option for minor offenses.  

According to initial plans, the facility will be an alternative option for law enforcement or emergency responders called to address people falling ill to substance abuse, experiencing extreme poverty or struggling with a mental health episode. Rather than taking individuals to the county jail or detention center, people can be treated or receive assistance at the center, according to a news release. Board leaders said the center could alleviate hospital emergency rooms as well.

Plans revealed that the facility would have peer specialists to help with basic needs such as food and showers but will rely on partner agencies to provide robust services such as physical and mental health screenings, first aid, connections to housing and health care, officials said in the news release.

RELATED: Grady Health will operate, staff Atlanta's diversion center

What medical assistance will be available? 

Grady Memorial Hospital and the Policing Alternatives and Diversion (PAD) Program have agreed to help staff the facility. With their assistance, the initiative is expected to divert 41 people daily from the local jails, detention facilities and emergency rooms, according to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

"By introducing diversion services to this facility, we are helping those charged with minor, non-violent offenses access the resources they need to help turn their lives around. It is equity in action and another historic step in our vision for a more equitable Atlanta," then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms previously said.

The center is expected to open spring of 2024.


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