City of Atlanta and Fulton County Establish Strategic Partnership to Develop Center for Diversion and Services
Through collaborative efforts, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County recently established a strategic partnership that will create and fund a 24/7 pre-arrest Center for Diversion and Services. The Diversion Center will serve people experiencing concerns related to homelessness, mental health, substance use, and poverty and will be a drop-off point for law enforcement and other first responders. In the past, individuals experiencing such concerns would normally be taken to a jail or hospital emergency room. Instead, peer specialists at the Diversion Center will address immediate needs such as food and showers, while partner agencies (such as the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative (PAD) and Grady Memorial Hospital (Grady)) will provide physical and mental health screenings, basic first aid, and connections to housing, health care, and other stabilizing resources. The Diversion Center will also offer a place for sobering and offer care navigators to provide ongoing case management and warrant resolution.
The partnership to create and fund the Diversion Center is detailed in a joint Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) approved in November 2021 by the Atlanta City Council and Fulton County Board of Commissioners. The City of Atlanta, with the help of the Georgia Power Foundation, will cover the estimated $3 million cost to build-out the Diversion Center at 254 Peachtree Street and will split the estimated $5 million annual operating costs with Fulton County. The Georgia Power Foundation has granted $100,000 towards capital costs.
The Diversion Center is modeled after successful and innovative reforms seen in many regions across the country, such as Houston, Texas. Representatives from the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, Grady, PAD, and others traveled to Houston in August 2021 to visit Harris County’s diversion center. The Harris County Mental Health Diversion Center has reduced new jail stays by 50 percent for people who entered the diversion center for the first time. Further, for every dollar spent on diversion, Harris County avoided spending $5.54 on criminal legal system costs.
While this first step establishing the Diversion Center is crucial, this partnership will also focus on continuing to transition away from jail and police responses and building a comprehensive infrastructure system, or “continuum of resources,” for people with behavioral health concerns in the Atlanta metro area.