Mega relief center expected to open this week in area

By Justin Boron

The American Red Cross is planning to set up three "mega service centers" in metro Atlanta and many believe that Clayton County will be the one on the south end. The agency's chief executive officer Tom English would only say on Wednesday that one would be in the southern Atlanta area.

English would not specify exact locations until a formal announcement is made because he didn't want to start a flow of displaced persons to centers that are not yet open and ready to help.

However, Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell on Tuesday night told a group of citizens upset with Red Cross' lack of presence in the county that there would be center involving the agency opening up here.

Tony Moore, a spokesman for Red Cross's Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter, couldn't confirm that one would be in Clayton County, saying the full details for the centers had not been completely worked out.

"They're going to be spread out throughout the metro Atlanta area," he said.

He also said the larger centers will enable the agency to process people at a faster rate.

"We hope to process three to four times more people than regular service centers," he said.

English said the three new centers should be open by noon today and be equipped with 100 caseworkers each to better accommodate the thousands in our area displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The relief agency has been "inundated" with thousands of people from the Gulf Coast states affected by the storm, English said.

Until now, the agency has served storm victims through a service center at the city's Adamsville center in southwest Atlanta, through five other offices, and through a number of temporary shelters.

Moore said wherever the agency sets up the centers, it plans to try and work with other government and non-profit organizations. He also said it may work through faith-based organizations .

The Red Cross is also planning other changes.

The agency has distributed more than 3,000 debit cards to people staying in Atlanta, but the cards are running out. The agency is working out some other form of financial assistance, perhaps as cash. But those plans are completed, English said.

The agency is also working on better lodging for people who have been staying at shelters, and agency workers have been working with apartment buildings, motels and a variety of other businesses, English said.

Speculation centers on Clayton County being one of the mega-centers for a number of reasons, including the efforts of local officials to find a shelter since the old jail in Lovejoy was ruled out last week for not being ready and because of the large number of displaced persons who have flocked to the county. Its central location between other large counties just south of Atlanta makes it a likely choice also.

There is no speculation on where the location might be if Clayton County is selected as one of the three mega-centers.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.