Survivors of violence could get help of all kinds under one roof

Clackamas County will fulfill a long-term dream of building a family justice center in an effort to reduce domestic violence homicides.

At the Clackamas County Red Soils campus in Oregon City, it will house all services for domestic violence survivors under one roof. So instead of having to send survivors from one building to the next, at the new facility victims could meet with a law enforcement officer, file for a restraining order using a virtual courtroom, get child care and a medical exam.

“I hear too many times victims say, ‘I’m just going to go back, because it’s easier to be there than it is to go to this meeting, to this place, to this courthouse,’ and that’s not OK,” Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women’s Services, a nonprofit shelter and victim service provider, told commissioners at a work session Oct. 30.

Recognizing the unmet need for domestic violence services, last year’s and the current county annual budgets included $500,000 for a multi-use shelter. Leaders expect facility operations and a sheriff’s office director will require another $195,000 annually. Commissioners agreed last week to provide up to $100,000 to fund operations and staffing for an initial startup period though June of 2013.

Sheriff Craig Roberts said he was “really excited” about this proposal to build on the county’s initiatives to combat domestic violence.

“It will create a lot of positive changes for survivors,” Roberts said.

Cindy Becker, the county’s director of health, housing and human services, said the concept matches up with federally standardized best practices by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“If you had a dictionary and you looked up the phrase, ‘Stars are in alignment,’ you would find this project,” Becker said.

CWS and other agencies currently have advocates ride along with police, respond to the hospital or attend courtroom meetings with victims. Police chiefs who signed a letter of support for the proposal included Mike Conrad of Oregon City, Don Johnson of Lake Oswego, Jim Pryde of Gladstone, Rod Lucich of Molalla, Terry Timeus of West Linn and Kim Yamashita of Sandy.

Personnel from numerous organizations, including the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, victim advocates, social service providers and legal service providers seek to work more effectively and efficiently in a centralized location.

County officials identified a building on Warner Milne Road already equipped with meeting rooms and wired for video conferencing. Other renovations would come from an existing allocation of federal funds.

Commissioners Ann Lininger and Paul Savas worked together to develop the concept by visiting a similar facility in the Gateway neighborhood of East Portland. Commissioner Jim Bernard said his only concern would be to set up the family justice center’s lease to avoid a situation such at Parrott Creek Child and Family Services, where the county is responsible for maintenance.

“I’m in total support of moving forward on this — just let me know and I’ll bring my paint rollers and help,” Bernard said. “But I think we have some details to work out.”

County Administrator Steve Wheeler said the county, with “modest” capital costs, would likely work those details out to open in January.

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