Column: Sibley steps down at homelessness commission

By Maria Saporta
Friday, October 23, 2009

It was back in November 2002 when recently retired King & Spalding LLP attorney Horace Sibley got a call from Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. Would Sibley be willing to chair a 90-day study commission on homelessness, the mayor asked.

That led to a 16-member commission of university presidents, business and civic leaders coming up in July 2003 with a “Blueprint to End Homelessness in Atlanta in Ten Years” with a set of 29 recommendations. Franklin then asked Sibley if he would chair a United Way Regional Commission on Home- lessness to try to enact some of those recommendations.

On Oct. 21, Sibley stepped down as chair of the Regional Commission.

“It’s been a great, rewarding journey,” Sibley said. “It’s been remarkable to be involved around so many dedicated folks coming around a common cause and see so much progress made in such a short period of time.”

He will be succeeded by three co-chairs: Jack Hardin, senior partner of Rogers & Hardin LLP and a former United Way chairman; Ray Buday, executive director of the Marietta Housing Authority; and Franklin, her first leadership commitment that will continue after she ends her tenure as mayor in January.

The establishment of a cooperative effort among leaders in seven counties and the city was a victory in itself.

The commission set forth several goals to end chronic homelessness in 10 years. It wanted 1,750 supportive housing units in 10 years. “We’ve already provided over 2,000 units in six years, and have more in the works,” Sibley said.

It had a goal of 350 units for women and children in 10 years. It already has secured 600 units. The commission also has been working on the base closings of Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem, which will include facilities to house those who previously were homeless.

The commission helped establish the 24/7 Gateway Center, where 25 different providers offered services to the homeless in one place. Efforts were made to cut through bureaucratic red tape to give people benefits.

“We have reduced the time for obtaining Social Security benefits from two years to three months,” Sibley said. “We have increased the success rate of obtaining Social Security benefits for the disabled from 20 percent to 70 percent.”

Another big goal was to help reunify the homeless with family members and loved ones.

“We have developed a best practice reunification program to bring loved ones back together, and that has resulted in 10,000 reunifications in the past six years,” Sibley said.

Whether the region will be able to end chronic homelessness (defined as people who live on the streets for a year or more) by 2013 remains to be seen. But Sibley deserves much of the credit for getting the region to where it is today.

“Horace has been the man,” said Milton Little, president of Atlanta’s United Way. “I don’t know if we would have achieved the successes that we have had had it not been for Horace’s leadership. Horace can walk out of this experience feeling very good about the difference he’s made on the systems that serve the homeless and also on the lives he’s made a difference improving.”

Sibley said the experience has made him an abolitionist, someone who wants to abolish homelessness as a major social ill. And he will continue serving on the board of Gateway.

UPS equips ToolBank

ToolBank USA, a homegrown national nonprofit, has just received a $135,000 gift from the UPS Foundation to help it build a technology platform to help it serve future affiliates across the country.

A year ago, ToolBank USA was created as an outgrowth of the Atlanta Community ToolBank, which has been lending tools to other nonprofits since 1992 and is able to equip 50,000 volunteers annually.

Thanks to a two-year, $250,000 seed gift from The Home Depot Foundation, ToolBank USA has been working to replicate its Atlanta program in other cities.

It is not unlike the history of Hands On Atlanta, which started here and led to the creation of a national organization, Hands On Network, also based in Atlanta.

“We became aware of ToolBank USA last year and thought it was a great concept,” said Ken Sternad, president of the UPS Foundation. “[It’s] a simple but very needed service — linking volunteer organizations to provide tools. And it’s largely a logistics issue, which is where our expertise can be applied.”

United Parcel Service Inc. had one of its logistics and technology experts work with ToolBank USA to help develop its technology platform and then provided the $135,000 grant to help the new organization build out its inventory management system.

“One of our biggest issues is how are we tracking all of these tools,” said Mark Brodbeck, CEO of ToolBank USA, who served as executive director of the Atlanta Community ToolBank for eight years. “It’s like a library. Our singular goal is to make sure we get every tool back so we can lend it again.”

Stanley Works, a major manufacturer of tools, also provided $100,000 in startup funding for the new national organization.

Brodbeck said he is working with people in Charlotte, N.C., Baltimore, and Boulder, Colo., to establish tool banks in those cities.

Rotary honors Dahlberg

One of the most colorful CEOs in recent city history — Bill Dahlberg — received the Atlanta Legend award from the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Oct. 19.

Dahlberg, who served as CEO of Georgia Power Co. and Southern Co., also has served in top leadership positions in numerous civic and business organizations.

He was introduced by Mike Garrett, current president and CEO of Georgia Power.

“There’s no one more deserving of this prestigious award than Bill Dahlberg,” said Garrett, who is leading the state’s efforts to resolve the water disputes with Alabama and Florida. “Bill had a profound impact on my career.”

Dahlberg gave credit to his success to one piece of advice: “Simply run with good people.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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