When Cobb County residents hit rock bottom, the Extension offers them help getting back up.
Now, the nonprofit dedicated to providing residential treatment for homeless addicted men and women is planning to expand its services with a new $5.5 million, 22,000 square-foot facility.
The Extension is scheduled to come before the Marietta City Council next month with plans for the new facility at its current site off Church Street Extension near where it becomes Bells Ferry Road, just south of Cobb Parkway.
That’s the site where the Extension currently operates out of a 6,000-square-foot converted warehouse from the 1930s. They want to knock that building down to build the new three-story facility, which will allow the men’s dormitory to grow from 25 beds to 56. The Extension also operates a separate facility for women east of Marietta Square.
Skip Harper, chair of the Extension’s Board of Directors, said the group simply needs more beds to deal with the scale of the problem.
“We just have huge demand for services,” he said. “It’s just incredible, just calls constantly throughout the day, people wanting help, people coming by wanting help, and so we need to expand, there’s just no way we can properly serve this community and not have more beds.”
Executive Director Tyler Driver said the Extension accepted 162 clients into the program in fiscal year 2019, but was forced to turn away another 553 applicants.
“And that’s not even talking about the phone calls that we get,” he said. “When they call and hear that we don’t have a bed, they don’t come fill out an application, they’re in a state of crisis, they need immediate housing, but they also need to get back on track. So they’re not going to come in and fill out an application when they hear we don’t have a bed. So that number is exponentially higher in terms of the need.”
The Extension got its start in 1987 as the Marietta-Cobb Winter Shelter, operating seasonally during the coldest part of the year.
But Driver said the Extension soon grew into something not quite like a shelter.
“By the early ’90s, of course, crack cocaine had blown up, and it really affected the people that we serve in a big way,” he said. “And we knew by the very early ’90s that what we were doing was not having any sort of lasting impact on people’s lives or the community. It took a few years, it took until 1995 when we felt like, OK, we can keep the doors open and try to turn this thing into something more flexible.”
Driver said homeless shelters do good work, but the Extension is more akin to a medical facility that treats the disease of addiction.
“The distinction between a shelter and a treatment center is huge,” he said. “You don’t go to the airport to get on a Greyhound bus. People come to us for treatment, and we are licensed.”
Unlike shelters, Driver said the Extension does not hold events for the general population, such as hosting open meals.
“We will never do that,” he said. “We’re not going to commingle an actively addicted population, which many of the folks on the street are, with a group of people who are committed to their recovery.”
Harper said residents are only allowed in if they come voluntarily and cooperate with a regimen of therapy and drug testing.
“One hundred percent of our residents work at full-time jobs,” he said. “They come in at night for their therapy, and they spend the night there and they have group sessions and individual sessions, and they pay into the system. It completely changes their mindset. They yearn to be responsible citizens, responsible family members, and that’s what we’re talking about.”
City staff wrote in an analysis document that the plan does not go against the city’s comprehensive plan.
“The facility is suitably located in an area that is isolated from residential uses and has access to WellStar Kennestone Hospital and other supporting medical industries,” the document reads. “Aside from a few, small commercial businesses, the surrounding area is primarily industrial and institutional.”
The Extension is requesting three variances from the city: to reduce the rear setback from 35 feet to 20, to reduce the number of parking spaces to 43 and to waive a required sidewalk along Loudermilk Drive.
The plans are scheduled to come before the city’s planning commission Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. and the City Council Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.