Atlanta to receive grant from Bloomberg to create call center

Atlanta is one of five cities named Thursday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Bloomberg Philanthropies to share in $24 million to design and implement programs to meet pressing civic needs.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed confirmed that the city will receive $1.4 million annually -- for the rest of Reed's first term in office -- to address two of its biggest needs: to create and fund a comprehensive 311 system to improve governmental customer service throughout the city and to reduce Atlanta’s street homeless and panhandling problem.

“I am grateful to Mayor Bloomberg’s generosity with advice and time,” Reed said. “This funding will raise the level of performance in Atlanta and focus on what it takes to build a best-in-class 311 center."

In each of the chosen cities, Bloomberg's initiative will fund five- to six-person "Innovation Delivery Teams." In New York, Bloomberg established teams to develop anti-poverty, sustainability and efficiency movements that were adopted into his administration.

Atlanta's team would develop the 311 system and provide expertise; salaries would be paid by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will provide support for the project's duration.

Last year, Atlanta hired Amy Phuong as the city's chief services officer by using a $200,000 Cities of Service Leadership Grant from Bloomberg and the Rockefeller initiatives. Chicago, Louisville, Memphis and New Orleans also received grants for various projects.

“This grant was heavily influenced by the kind of talent we have been attracting here in Atlanta,” Reed said.

Money and resources previously have prevented Atlanta from building a 311 calling center, something that Baltimore, Charlotte and Miami offer. Atlanta residents have had no guidance in finding a department or city service and often have clogged up 911 with non-emergency calls.

“There is no single point of entry to access government services now,” said Duriya Farooqui, Atlanta’s deputy chief operating officer, who will oversee the hiring of the team. “Instead of citizens trying to figure it out, they can call 311 and get quick answers.”

Reed and Farooqui have not set a firm timetable for when a 311 center would open or whether a national search will be conducted to find someone to run it.

“We need someone who lives this,” Reed said. “We will let the team determine the time line because they are going to be the ones coming to us with budget demands.”

Although the funding breakdown hasn't been established, Anita Beaty, executive director of the , is cautiously optimistic the grant will assist Atlanta's growing homeless population.

The city has more than 45,000 homeless people, Beaty estimated.

"I would never say we have enough resources, but the issue is housing. ... The city needs a lot of money to create the type of facilities to get people off the street right now," said Beaty, who runs the Peachtree and Pine homeless shelter.