ATLANTA -- Marietta could soon become home to a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children, under a proposal from a Stone Mountain nonprofit.
The shelter could house up to 50 children in custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a nonprofit that obtained approval from the city's zoning department to refurbish an existing building. Freemont Grace Human Services would run the facility.
The plan to open the center comes months after the federal government stopped its efforts to open an Atlanta-area shelter for unaccompanied children who are appended along the U.S. southwest border. In June, the government was looking for 96,000 square feet of space to house up to 500 children in southwest metro Atlanta.
The feds previously explored using Fort Benning near Columbus as a new shelter for immigrant children, but that plan was abandoned over Pentagon concerns it could interfere with troop "readiness."
Once children are apprehended at the U.S. border with Mexico, they are placed in the care of the HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement. That office provides care until they can find sponsors to keep the children while their cases move through immigration court. Sponsors are usually their parents or other relatives.
Mitchell Bryant, a managing partner with Freemont Grace Holdings, the parent company of the nonprofit, said the organization is seeking a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. The money would be used to renovate and staff the existing building.
Bryant said the deadline to submit his grant application is Nov. 12, and he expects to hear back from the federal government within 30 to 45 days. Along with accepting children from the federal government, Bryant also said he would like to help other children who find themselves in precarious situations.
"We also have other programs that we are going to pursue in addition to that," he said, but all are aimed at children needing short-term shelter.
If he gets the funding, he will begin making the renovations needed for his operations and equipping the building with furniture and other necessary items. He will also use the funds to hire about 30 staff members, make rental payments and provide food for the children. The shelter could open by late February or March if everything goes to plan, Bryant said.
"I believe that you can operate something in compliance with the law, but you can do so in a compassionate way because these are children," he said.