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  • 11 Jul 2014

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'Safe Place' offers hope for domestic victims

County leaders opened the Family Justice Center last week full of optimism for helping more victims of domestic violence, camaraderie about new partnerships in providing support services, and amid some uncertainty about how exactly they would administer the programs.

by: PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Clackamas Womens Services Executive Director Melissa Erlbaum takes media members on a tour through the kids playroom at A Safe Place, Clackamas County's newly opened Family Justice Center for comprehensive domestic-violence prevention services.The bottom line is a more streamlined approach for victims to take action against their abusers. Survivors of domestic violence will be able to talk with a counselor, file a police report, find a battered-women’s shelter, join a support group and get a restraining order from a judge — all in one building called A Safe Place.

Sarah Groshell, whom Clackamas County hired last month as co-director with the sheriff’s office, said people who come into the building first would decide whether to share information with police or other support organizations.

“The first thing they’ll do is talk with a community advocate who may ask for their permission to share information with police so survivors don’t keep having to repeat their story to all these different agencies,” Groshell said.

As the former director of a domestic-violence unit, Sheriff Craig Roberts has seen many people get frustrated with bureaucracy and give up on getting free of their abusers. Victims of domestic violence often live under tight financial and physical restrictions, Roberts added, so they might only get one chance to escape.

A Safe Place houses eight governmental and nonprofit organizations onsite at 256 Warner Milne Road to offer “one-stop shopping so we can provide wraparound services to victims, so families don’t have to go place-to-place,” Roberts said. “Our goal in talking with survivors is to let them know that when they’re ready to leave, we’ll be ready to help them, and what we’ve seen is that they’ll make that call if we’re not judging them for staying with their abuser.”

Building on history

A Safe Place is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. All the on-site partners, including a couple of organizations dedicated to providing culturally specific service to the Latino population, were confident that any service gaps would be worked out since the center already can help victims.

Its soft opening last Tuesday came before the technology was completely online to allow access to judges. DHS officials were still working on developing the exact procedure for getting suspected elder-abuse referrals on-site. Brett Cattani, an attorney with Legal Aid, was excited to see this “coming together” and hoped to soon get grants to expand his organization’s presence beyond twice a month so victims can immediately access his knowledge of a wide range of legal remedies for domestic issues.

Clackamas County cut the ribbon Dec. 10 on this largest facility dedicated to preventing domestic violence in the state, but Roberts originally proposed that the building would be even larger. Although the Children’s Center ended up building its own 10,000-square-foot building in 2011, it remains one of the Family Justice Center’s eight off-site partners.

Clackamas Women’s Services completely relocated to A Safe Place from its offices on Main Street in Oregon City. The nonprofit will continue to operate its shelter at an undisclosed location, and its hub in Estacada will serve as a “mini-family-justice center” with Clackamas County services on site, said Executive Director Melissa Erlbaum, a longtime proponent of the project.

“We can be providing support services in between the time they’re talking to law enforcement and judges,” Erlbaum said. “And one of the benefits of taking over a public-safety building is that we have great security features, and then we just had to soften the focus a little bit to create more of a living-room feel.”

John R. Shaver Sheriff’s Office Building honors a Clackamas County sheriff who was killed after tracking down a suspect in April 1906. The federal government deeded the building that once housed the Internal Revenue Service to the sheriff’s office on Feb. 5, 2004.

Shaver’s murderer was an escapee from Multnomah County Jail who had initially fled to Oregon City, where he killed George Hanlon, the last OCPD officer killed in the line of duty before Robert Libke last month. Around midnight, Shave confronted convicted post-officer robber Frank Smith near a stretch of railroad tracks in Woodburn. Shaver died from Smith’s 44-caliber revolver shots.